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Erik Burgess, Published February 03 2014

Fargo police chief: Leave cabbie background checks to companies

FARGO – The police chief here says the city should stop running background checks on taxi cab drivers.

It’s part of the city’s attempt to update decades-old ordinances regulating the taxi industry, a cleanup effort brought forth following a Forum investigation of local cabbie records last year.

The City Commission on Monday night unanimously approved a plan for City Attorney Erik Johnson to update the city’s cabbie laws, at the urging of Police Chief Keith Ternes.

Ternes said the city only does background and driver’s license checks for taxi drivers, while similar screenings for city bus and school bus drivers are left to the private companies that provide those services.

“So the question becomes: Well then, why do it for just taxi drivers?” Ternes asked. “What is the public safety or other interest that would prompt the city or the Police Department to be involved in that? And quite honestly, I can’t come up with one.”

The Forum’s investigation of cabbie records last spring found that police haven’t been fully enforcing Fargo’s taxi laws, allowing at least two convicted felons to obtain licenses and resulting in more than 50 cases since 2008 in which a cabbie’s license should have been revoked or suspended because of multiple traffic violations.

Police at the time said the department did not have enough resources to enforce the laws, and Ternes repeated that argument again on Monday.

“It certainly prompted us to review a couple of things,” Ternes said of The Forum’s story, which was published May 5.

In the short term, police took another look at some of the drivers who perhaps shouldn’t have been given a cab license, Ternes said. But the long-term goal was to update the aging law.

The penalties section of the law hasn’t been updated since 1952. It states that the police chief shall revoke a cabbie’s city-issued license if he or she has:

  • Been convicted of a felony.

  • Had his/her state driver’s license revoked or suspended.

  • Been convicted of driving under the influence of “intoxicating liquor or narcotics.”

  • Been convicted of two or more violations of city or state traffic laws during any continuous six-month period.

  • Been found by the chief to be unfit to drive a taxicab “for the preservation of public safety, welfare, morals or good order.”

    Ternes said his department has discussed proposed changes with local cab companies over the last year. He said they are receptive to running their own background checks because it eliminates some bureaucracy.

    Companies already do it as an “employment practice,” Ternes said.

    “By way of revising the ordinance, we might make it a requirement for the businesses to do this, but nonetheless they’d have to do it for themselves,” he said.

    When reached by phone Monday afternoon, Laurie Dodd, co-owner of Lucky 7 Taxi Service, said she was unaware the City Commission was considering the changes, and she didn’t have time to comment.

    Jim Peinovich, owner of Doyle’s Yellow Checker Cab Co., did not return a call for comment Monday.

    Once the city attorney has revised the ordinance, the City Commission must hold a public hearing before the changes can be made final.

    Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518