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Councilman Wants 'Amber Alert' For Attacked Livery Drivers

By Jill Colvin | July 26, 2012 2:26pm

ONE POLICE PLAZA — There’s an "Amber alert" for missing children and a "silver alert" for missing seniors.

Now, City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez wants to expand the rainbow — creating an alert specifically for livery drivers.

Following what he described as a disturbing series of violent attacks, Rodriguez introduced legislation Wednesday that would force the Police Department to “instantly upload” images of suspects captured by livery drivers’ surveillance cameras after an attack to disseminate to the public and press.

“We feel that if the image is downloaded and is sent immediately to the drivers who have cameras already and to the different bases and to the public, it will help the livery cab industry,” said Rodriguez, who noted that four New York livery drivers have been killed on the job since 2011.

“I believe that this initiative will save many lives,” he said.

Currently, it can take up to two weeks for police to upload the images from drivers' cars, according to Julio Alvarez, who owns two livery bases in Washington Heights and one in the Bronx.

“It’s scary,” said Alvarez, who said he was robbed twice at gunpoint when he was a driver 15 years ago. He said safety is one of the top concerns for drivers in the industry, and he believes that releasing the images faster would help catch criminals and dissuade others from committing crimes.

“The situation is that some of the drivers are attacked and we don’t have information until a week or two later,” he said.

José Jaén, from the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, said he envisioned a system “sort of like the Amber alert” that would make it easier for owners and police to track down perps.

The NYPD, however, dismissed the need for any new legislation.

“The NYPD already disseminates video of crime suspects caught on livery cameras,” Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said.

He did not respond to questions about how long it typically takes for the images to be released or why their release might be delayed.

Thousands of livery cars and a handful of yellow cabs are currently equipped with digital cameras, whose images are stored in secure units installed in vehicles, TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg said.

After a spate of livery homicides in 2000, the city created a $5 million fund to help cover the cost of partitions between the drivers and passengers and camera installations. Under current TLC rules, all livery cars must be equipped with either a partition or a camera, which are typically mounted near drivers’ rear-view mirrors.

Rodriguez's bill would not require owners to install any new cameras or equipment — because it's too burdensome a cost, he said.

Livery drivers have also asked for other safety measures in the past, including permission to carry guns.

Rodriguez has received significant campaign cash from the livery industry, including a contribution from the manager of Alvarez’s Premium Radio Dispatch, Campaign Finance Board documents show.