TOP effort in Denver to track crimes, signs of terrorism

The Colorado Statesman

Barely 24 hours after Metro Taxi launched a program in January 2011 training drivers to keep their eyes and ears open for crime, a cabbie witnessed a pickup truck sideswipe a vehicle and kill a valet driver outside a Denver nightclub. The driver followed the truck and wrote down the license plate number to inform police. Law enforcement quickly made an arrest in connection with the horrific case.

Since then, Taxis on Patrol has resulted in drivers calling in over 2,000 tips about potential crimes and suspicious behavior across metro Denver, resulting in a 68 percent success rate. Organizers on Tuesday announced that the program would become “Transportation on Patrol,” extending the effort to limo drivers, pedal cabs and truck drivers.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, Denver officials hope that Transportation on Patrol can help spot terrorist activity before it occurs. The program has partnered with the Denver-based Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (CELL) to offer drivers a “deeper understanding of the ‘see something, say something’ program,” according to Larry Stevenson, founder of the patrol, referring to the Department of Homeland Security’s public awareness campaign.

Mayor Michael Hancock speaks at a press conference about Taxis on Patrol, which has resulted in drivers calling in over 2,000 tips about potential crimes and suspicious behavior in metro Denver.
Photo by Peter Marcus/The Colorado Statesman

Drivers are being educated on suspicious activities, including people dropping bags on public streets, taking photos of security cameras and recording law enforcement response times, to name a few.

“We need to call that type of suspicious behavior in as well because we face real threats in this country and our city,” implored Stevenson. “And our collective communities are not immune to that.”

Larry Mizel, founder of the CELL, believes his organization’s efforts with Transportation on Patrol expands the “see something, say something” cam-paign, which, at the very least, instills a sense of fear in terrorists that they may be watched. He said that includes educating the general public as well.

“[We want to] educate not only the drivers, but really the public because we are one another’s keepers, and we’re living in a very complicated world,” opined Mizel. “Denver has had a lot of activity… that’s made the national scene, and for us to kick off a formal training program… it’s something we’re all very proud of.”

Denver metro became the focus of terrorist activity in 2009 when police arrested Najibullah Zazi, 27, as part of an al Qaeda group accused of planning suicide bombings on the New York City subway system. Zazi — who first underwent weapons and explosive training in Pakistan — moved to Aurora. He drove from Aurora to New York with the intent of detonating explosives on the subway system, before the plan was foiled by authorities. He pled guilty in 2010.

Homeland officials at the time called the plot one of the most serious since the 9/11 attacks. It also raised questions about possible terrorist sleeper cells in the Aurora area.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock spoke of the importance of educating the public to speak up when they see something suspicious, suggesting that it could keep terrorist activities away from Denver.

“In the world in which we live today, it is critically important that every one of us — whether we are driving or operating a vehicle for professional duty or walking down the street — when we see something, say something,” remarked the mayor. “And all of us, in order to keep our communities in our society safe, are responsible for responding appropriately when we see something that is not correct.”

Bruce Beck, who operates a cab in the Denver suburbs, said the training he has received has helped him to remain vigilant.

“Our eyes are out there, our ears are out there, and we’re around the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays,” said Beck. “So, somebody’s going to see something when we’re out there.”

Meanwhile, Stevenson said Transportation on Patrol will also continue to focus on keeping an eye out for every day crimes, such as drunk driving. At the event Tuesday, six local taxi drivers were awarded for their assistance in preventing crime and calling in tips to the Denver Police Department that led to arrests.

“The success has been the effective arrest or protection of life and property of people and our neighbors in our collective communities…” said Stevenson. “Taxi drivers have been stopping their taxis; stopping making money to ensure that the communities are a safer place to live, work and play.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com