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Published February 04 2014

Forum editorial: Hold cabs to a high standard

If public safety is the first priority of Fargo police, then the department’s stance on checking the criminal status of cabbies, school bus drivers and city bus drivers is out of sync with that purpose. On Monday, Police Chief Keith Ternes urged the City Commission to revise an old law that requires police checks. The commission, curiously, approved an update that apparently would free the department of conducting the checks.

It’s curious because, by the chief’s own admission, the department has not been doing background checks on cabbies. A May report by The Forum found as much, and further revealed at least two convicted felons had received cab driver licenses. The investigation also found more than 50 cases since 2008 in which a cabbie’s license should have been pulled because of multiple traffic violations, as city law requires.

Why no action by the police under current city law? Ternes said at the time that the department did not have the resources to enforce the laws, and said this week the situation had not changed. His remedy, however, seems like a step backward.

Instead of requesting resources to enforce the law, the chief wants the law changed so enforcement would not be his department’s responsibility. He made this argument: If the city does not require criminal background checks for school bus and city bus drivers, “… why do it for just taxi drivers?”

The answer should not be to give cabbies a pass but rather to include screenings for bus drivers. The suggestion that private transportation companies can do the checks would have some appeal if the record showed companies, cab operators in particular, were serious about checking the criminal history of their drivers. The Forum’s May investigation revealed some are not; and that it can be assumed they knew the police were not doing the checks required by law.

Well-run companies do background checks. Not all companies are well run. That being the evidence-based reality – and if the public safety arm of local government is freed from determining what sort of people are behind the wheels of cabs and buses – then company-conducted background checks should be mandatory, and reported regularly to the police. Standards for what the screenings should include should be part of any law change.

It is not too much for a cab customer to expect that the cabbie does not have a string of DUIs on his record; or that a school bus driver is not a sex offender. Under the current system there are no assurances.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.