New Orleans — Angry taxi drivers descended on New Orleans City Hall on Friday arguing that the expensive equipment city officials forced them to install last year has done nothing to make them safer after another fatal shooting of one of their own.
Thursday’s slaying of taxi driver Sheicho Delbar angered and frustrated his fellow cab drivers, who called on Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Taxicab Bureau Director Malachi Hull and Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas to come up with a solution to the city’s crime problem instead of ways to make money on them. Delbar, 35, was found dead in Treme early Thursday morning with multiple gunshot wounds to the body, according to police.
“We’re just looking for justice,” said Tony Makhoul, who’s driven a cab for more than two decades. “The city right here is silent. When it comes to crime they run away.”
Delbar was the third taxi driver killed in New Orleans in the past year. Makhoul noted that several other drivers have been robbed and one had his cab burned after a robber. Another cab driver shot a robber after an incident in October.
Makhoul, who drives for Liberty Bell cabs at night, said cab drivers are on the front lines of the city’s crime problem. However, he said the safety measures the city required drivers to install do nothing to keep them safe. He said he would rather the city focused its efforts on improving the criminal justice system, and let cab drivers worry about the best ways to be safe on the streets.
“The city needs to leave us alone,” Makhoul said after a fiery speech to his fellow drivers.
Several taxi drivers lashed out the city’s new standards, which required panic buttons, new credit card machines and cameras to be installed in taxis that operate in New Orleans. They complained that the equipment cost drivers thousands of dollars but hasn’t been proven to help them at all.
Dolores Montgomery and Eddie Cutno both work for Coleman Cab company and they derisively labeled the new equipment a “money grab” because cab drivers have to do business with city-approved vendors.
Montgomery argued that taxi drivers were not included in discussions about the new equipment, and many of them feel they were steered towards certain companies for ulterior motives. She said drivers understand and accept that when they are on the streets, they are in danger. However, it’s frustrating to have to spend money on equipment when the crime issue is much larger, she said.
“There is a culture of crime here,” Montgomery argued. “The equipment doesn’t help us at all.”
Cutno noted that when a driver pushes his or her panic button, the signal is routed back to the dispatcher. That dispatcher must then call the driver to find out if there is a true emergency. Cutno scoffed at the system, wondering how a driver would be able to say he’s having an emergency if a robber has a gun pointed to his head or back.
“By the time you do all this, it’s too late for you as a driver,” Cutno said. “If the cameras and panic buttons are designed to save lives, why haven’t we seen any results?”
Police have released little information about Delbar’s death, although they said they are retracing his steps prior to the shooting. Cab drivers were angry that there have been no photographs released of the people who rode in Delbar’s vehicle. They compared the cab cameras to the city’s much-maligned crime cameras.
Some drivers discussed the need for cabbies to arm themselves, a position the NOPD has had reservations about in the past. Police did hold a “Cab Academy” to discuss driver safety and other issues, but no news had been released on any upcoming events. Police say Delbar did not attend that academy.
City spokesman Kambium Buckner said recorded images from cabs can only be viewed by the taxicab bureau and police. He said the city is investigating the possibility of having silent alarms that alert police directly, and installing cameras outside of vehicles. He also mentioned the possibility of driver safety training being offered to cabbies.
Delbar had been living in New Orleans for several years, and he split time between the city and Ethiopia, where he had a wife and two children, according to Summer Ghebrehannes, a family friend. She described Delbar as hard-working and kind, a sentiment echoed by his co-workers at American Taxi.