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Each of the persons pictured was the prime suspect in a cabdriver homicide.

Why do they kill cab drivers?

In the August 2001 trial of a man accused of murdering a taxicab driver, Assistant County Prosecutor George Rukovena told a Cleveland jury: "He killed David Link because he wanted to brag about it."

How often does this happen, that the motive in a taxi homicide is not really robbery, but rather to act out a tough-guy role? The driver is just as dead whether it is robbery or something else, so does the motive even matter?

I think that motive does matter. It makes a difference if the person is after your money, or if he is working on his self-esteem.

Based on a close reading of hundreds of news articles, I believe that easily half of all taxicab driver homicides are motivated by something other than robbery. Compelling evidence is seen in the fact that most cab homicides are "senseless murders" and on the unpleasant fact that grossly excessive violence is a characteristic feature of taxi homicides.

Senseless murders have a pattern to them. According to UCLA sociologist Jack Katz, many violent criminals are acting out a role. They don't really care about the victim or the money, and they are only dimly aware (if at all) of the predictable scripts that they are following. The sociologist argues that robbing the victim is almost an afterthought, helping the criminal make sense out of his own actions in committing the murder.

In my opinion, cab drivers are absolutely barking up the wrong tree to approach driver safety as an exercise in robbery prevention. It is about preventing people from using our taxicabs as a theater or stage for acting out specific patterns of behavior.

One pattern in behavior associated with senseless murder has to do with defilement of the victim. I'll skip the detailed argument here, noting that scores of examples are readily at hand, and ask instead: how many times does an assailant have to shoot a man in the head if his purpose is simply to get the driver's money?

A second pattern associated with senseless murder has to do with chaos. The assailant is unconsciously driven to create a chaotic situation.

If it is true that many violent criminals are acting out a definable role, then it should be possible to recognize when the script begins to unfold in a taxicab. We should be able to get an early warning when extremely dangerous patterns of behavior begin.

I do not claim to have the answers, but here are some of the questions.

How, for instance, should a cab driver regard a difficult customer who spits or who deliberately dumps a beverage in the cab? Are those acts of defilement? What is the appropriate response, and is the response different if you know that acts of defilement are associated with acts of senseless murder?

How important is it for a driver to maintain order in the cab? Where is the boundary between a boisterous or unruly situation and a chaotic situation? Is there a line between customer service and driver safety, and does "chaos" define that line?

Maybe the solutions that work to prevent robberies are also the same solutions that work to prevent senseless murders. But maybe not, especially the standard advice to be a compliant victim in an assault. If the antagonist seems more intent on playing a role than getting the money, a driver might be better off fighting back or trying to get away even if attempting to do so is a high risk move.

My strategy is to laugh and smile a lot with my customers, and to share many good words, and also to keep a bullet-resistant partition between us whenever possible. The shield is a minor inconvenience most of the time, but when the one-in-a-thousand, or the one-in-ten-thousand, starts spitting or trashing the place or causing me to think the word "chaos," I will have some time and space to consider what's next in this script!

For a thought-provoking look at what drives violent criminal behavior, see "Seductions of Crime, Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil" by UCLA sociologist Jack Katz, Basic Books, New York 1988.


A man who was arrested for the murder of a cab driver in New York City. The outcome of the arrest is unknown.


This boy confessed the shotgun slaying of a taxicab driver in Jackson, Michigan. Outcome unknown.


This woman was convicted in the slaying of a San Francisco cab driver.


This woman was convicted in the unrelated slaying of another San Francisco cab driver.


The man in uniform was sentenced to death for eight rapes and four murders, including a taxicab driver in Fayetteville, NC.


The drawing of a suspect is from a wanted poster that was issued by police following the murder of a San Francisco cab driver. The assailant committed at least five other murders.


This man pleaded guilty to first degree murder in the death of a cab driver in Las Vegas.


This young man was arrested for the murder of a cab driver in Alaska. Outcome unknown.


The 62 year old man in the color photo was arrested for the murder of a taxi driver in Portland, Oregon. The case was still under investigation in late February 2003.


The man in the surveillance camera photo murdered a Toronto taxi driver and seriously injured another.

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