4 homicides investigated

Police planning cab safety classes after taxi driver killed

Police are investigating three homicides from this weekend, including the slaying of a taxi driver that has led police to announce new safety classes for all taxi drivers.

Vivian Snyder, 56; Lawrence Burt, 18; and Joseph Wilfred, 56, were killed in two shootings this weekend.

In addition, police investigated nonfatal shootings involving five other victims.

On Monday afternoon, police investigated another fatal shooting reported near the intersection of Delachaise Street and Lasalle Street.

Snyder and Burt were shot in the 2400 block of St. Andrew on Street Sunday night in an incident that left a 35-year-old man wounded. Police said they were shot outside of a home, and on Monday a makeshift memorial of plush animals was on the front step of the location.

No motive or suspects have been announced in that incident.

Wilfred, a taxi driver, was killed Saturday night near the intersection of Hollygrove and South Claiborne streets. Wilfred’s shooting was the second homicide this year involving a taxi driver, and in both incidents police believe the motive was robbery.

In July, Ali Husnain, 44, was killed during a robbery at an eastern New Orleans apartment complex.

Police said Wilfred was robbed, and left dead in his stalled vehicle on the side of the road. Wilfred worked for A Service Cab and had only been living in the city for a short time. He previously lived in Alabama.

In the wake of Wilfred’s shooting, police have announced a “Cab Academy” where they will provide safety information and training to cab drivers across the city.

The free program is scheduled to begin Jan. 9 and will feature instruction on working alone, working at night and how to effectively report crimes. Police said the academy will be offered to every cab company in the city.

Detroit police offered a similar course in October after a rash of shootings left several drivers dead.

Sgt. L.J. Smith, said the class will incorporate some of the things discussed in the Detroit class and classes across the nation but will be tailored to meet the city’s needs.

Not only are police concerned about driver safety, they believe cab drivers can be great information sources for police when it comes to solving crimes.

“The bottom line is keeping our cab drivers, as with all our citizens, safe,” Smith said.

Although the curriculum for the classes hasn’t been finalized, Smith expects to discuss the use of surveillance cameras in vehicles, two-way radios and how to contact 911 effectively. He also discussed the concept of using “drop boxes” in taxis that would allow drivers to deposit most of their cash into a secure location within the vehicle, sort of like a safe at a convenience store.

Safety is a constant issue for taxi cab drivers, who are often targeted for robberies and other scams. National statistics show that more than 1,200 cab drivers have been killed since 1980, and taxi drivers are 60 times more likely to be murdered on the job than other professions, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Wesley Derosier, vice president of Alliance Taxi Services, said cab drivers take their lives in their hands every time they allow someone to sit behind them. People often assume cab drivers carry large amounts of cash, despite the fact that they’re typically barely making it. Derosier said he’s been robbed twice, and despite all the tricks of the trade he’s learned over the years, each fare is an adventure.

“We don’t read people’s minds; we don’t read their hearts,” Derosier said. “Things are becoming worse on every point.”

But many of the safety measures that cab drivers can adopt also cost them more money. National studies recommend partitions, cameras, silent alarms, credit card machines and GPS systems to help drivers remain safe. Several of those items have been endorsed by the New Orleans Taxicab bureau in its new controversial guidelines for taxis.

Derosier said that given the rising fuel costs and vehicle fees, those types of improvements would be a hardship for many drivers. He supports the idea of drivers being armed. Derosier doesn’t think a gun would be a cure-all, but it would help some.

“The weapon cannot save you but it’s a second choice. The first choice is God,” Derosier said.

In October, a United Cab Company driver shot a man in the face after being robbed in the 3100 block of Burgundy Street. In that incident, the driver followed the man as he tried to flee the robbery and shot him. Smith said police will not be encouraging drivers to arm themselves because there are several other ways to improve safety.

“Whenever there’s a gun in any situation, people can get hurt,” Smith said.