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January 03, 2005
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Bicycle taxis lend ears, eyes to Fla. police

By Akilah Johnson
The Sun-Sentinel News

By enlisting the help of the downtown bicycle taxi drivers, West Palm Beach police have about 25 new sets of eyes and ears to help root out crime in the downtown area.

The help comes from the Eyewatch Program. Meant to be a direct link between the police and the participating business, each company is given a police radio that is programmed to a special channel monitored constantly by a dispatcher.

Recently, bicycle taxi drivers from all three companies learned when to reach for the radio and call for help. If they spot someone stealing a car, fighting or being robbed, they get on the air. If someone needs medical assistance or they see a suspicious person, they don't.

"If it's a non-emergency, a telephone call will do just fine," said Kelly Dobbs, owner of Turtle Town Transportation.

Dobbs approached the Police Department about starting a business crime watch because five riders were robbed last year. And often the riders -- because they're on bicycles -- see more than the police.

"These taxi bicycles are all over downtown, in some of the neighborhoods that surround downtown. They actually see quite a bit going on," said Officer Kelly Carsillo, who oversees the program.

Dobbs said his workers ride 20 to 50 miles a night and see everything from panhandlers to drug deals and hookers.

"I watched a man get stabbed years ago when I first started riding," he said.

Eyewatch lets businesses circumvent the usual process that's followed when someone dials 911. Instead of the caller talking to a dispatcher who then talks to the police, the Eyewatch participant speaks directly to the officer.

According to Carsillo, Eyewatch cuts out the middleman, making for quicker response times and more accurate suspect descriptions and initial information.

More than 20 businesses, including Palm Beach Atlantic University, Molly's Trolley and CityPlace, are enrolled in the program, she said.

Some businesses are scared off by the program's $1,000 price tag, which is the cost of the police radio. If it breaks, the businesses also must pay to have it repaired, she said.

With the bicycle taxis, Carsillo is trying something new. Instead of making businesses buy the radios right away, the radios will be loaned to them for three months.

The trial period is a way for them to determine if the program is worth the $1,000 investment, she said.

"If it doesn't work for you, give the radio back," Carsillo said. "At least you can say you tried."

Copyright 2007 Sentinel Communications

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