As he marks 18 months in his role, PC Patrick Quinton, Taxi Cop for Avon & Somerset police tells us about his job and how he’s making a positive difference to communities in Bristol and South Gloucestershire.
Did you know? In England, there are only three police forces that have Taxi Cops – The Metropolitan Police, West Midlands Police and Avon and Somerset Constabulary.
What is a Taxi Cop?
“Originally the intention was to create a traffic officer type role, similar to one they have in Birmingham, but when I got the job, I realised the role needed to be more community focussed. So rather than just issuing tickets and enforcing the law, I do a lot of problem-solving. I offer support and a listening ear to drivers, feeding back their thoughts to the Councils and other partners. I help drivers when they’re victims of crime themselves and provide them with information.
I gather intelligence which I then pass along to investigating officers; this can be in cases where taxi drivers themselves are committing crimes. My primary focus is about public safety, and that involves standards of driving, standards of vehicle, detecting and prosecuting unlicensed drivers, traffic management, crime investigation and many other things!
How did your role come about?
“Taxi drivers in Bristol were very unhappy. They didn’t feel there was effective enforcement when it came to taxis from outside our area operating in the city, as well as illegal taxis. This was having an effect on trade. SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality) stepped in, working to bridge the gap between the council and the drivers, to improve relationships. As part of that process, they found out that Birmingham had a police officer running a Taxi Cop scheme. So SARI invited him to come down and speak at a taxi conference and drivers’ thought it was a brilliant idea. This led to Bristol and South Gloucestershire councils getting together and funding the post, and here I am!”
Where does the money come from to pay for your services?
“Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council fully fund my post, but the money itself comes from the drivers themselves from the license fee they pay, so it’s at no direct cost to the public.”
Do taxi drivers respect the law?
“The vast majority of taxi drivers are really supportive of me and my role, largely because since I started their wages have gone up and their working lives have got better. They’ve got more confidence that the rules are being applied fairly, and the vast majority of drivers do follow the rules.
“I run a WhatsApp group for taxi drivers – we use a lot of emojis! There are about 300 drivers in the group and we get lots of really good information on there. I get a lot of intelligence, which helps inform wider investigations. It can be anything from people parking in taxi ranks illegally, drug dealing and sexual assaults. The fact that they are able to send me videos or photos works really well.”
Did you know? There are around 3000 licensed vehicles across Bristol and South Gloucestershire, probably around 3,500 drivers in total.
What else do you do in your role?
“I run an Inspection service from the Bridewell Police Station in the city centre, where we go through a 30 point checklist, which includes an eyesight test. They get about 20 or 30 minutes of attention and time with me, for them and their vehicle. For the blue cabs, we also make sure they can load and unload wheelchair users safely and the meters are reliable. I also provide advice to Investigating Officers, help with traffic arrangements for events like the Downs Festival and sometimes help drivers get money back from non-paying customers.
Do you have ‘normal’ police officers duties?
“Yes, I am always available to respond to any crimes that are in progress or to provide support to my blue light colleagues. It adds variety to my day to day shifts, because no one day is ever the same.”
It’s Hate Crime Awareness Week this month, is this an issue for taxi drivers?
“Hate crime is a problem in the taxi community – drivers are racially abused and this has a big impact because it’s so personal. Unfortunately, these crimes are underreported, but drivers know where I am, and if they do report an incident to me, I can refer them to SARI or other services to provide further support.
How do you feel being a white police officer working with drivers who are primarily Muslim, Sikh?
“The majority of drivers are Muslim and Sikh and it’s actually really refreshing to be in a working environment where white males are the minority. Knowing a few words of Arabic comes in handy!”
Do you talk to the public?
“An increasingly big part of my role is education; the council produce stickers which are displayed in taxis, letting customers know their rights, but also reminding them of the need to respect drivers too. My role doesn’t only focus on drivers – I also work to protect customers too. I’m currently working with partners on information for University students and public information leaflets and posters. As part of the random stop checks I do, I will make sure blue cab drivers are using their meters to be sure that customers are not being over-charged, or ripped off. During these stops I will chat with customers to check they’re comfortable and safe.”
What do you get out of the role?
“Knowing that the drivers are benefiting directly from what I do, both financially and by being able to work safely, is important to me. You try your best in the police but don’t always see results, but I am in a good position in that I can build on what I’m doing every day, and see value in new relationships or initiatives.
“I get a lot of thumbs up, waves and beeps when I am out and about. Because I work by myself most of the time you’ve got to be really motivated in the job and having the drivers support absolutely helps with that.”