When you call a cab in the City of Oswego some officials say there's a possibility the person behind the wheel could be a violent criminal. It's that realization that prompted leaders to change their licensing law. Now nearly two years after the issue was raised, new limits are finally in place. Our Candace Hopkins explains why the change took so long.
OSWEGO, N.Y. -- In a city full of college students, older residents and visiting workers, taxi cabs are a vital transportation option. Oswego officials say making sure the service is safe is a big priority.
"We as a city have to provide a safety net, it's critical, and everything we do we address safety first," said Mayor Tom Gillen.
But who drives those cabs? Some common councilors estimated two years ago that of the city's approximately 30 taxi drivers, 19 had previous felony convictions, including two who served time for violent sex offenses.
That's why in September of 2012 the city banned anyone with a criminal conviction in the past ten years from driving one. But the city was quickly sued, by a criminal rights group based in Albany. That's when officials learned it could conflict with state laws that restrict employment discrimination against felons.
So they went back to the drawing board and this past Monday night a new ordinance was finally passed. It requires yearly applications for cab drivers, including a background check and fingerprinting. And it gives the city the right to deny certain drivers a license, but the criminal history of each applicant will be examined on an individual basis.
"The police chief and the city clerk will have to look at the nature of the crime, the seriousness of the crime, how long ago the crime was committed and the conviction was obtained, whether the person was rehabilitated," said Oswego City Attorney Gay Williams.
Meaning a conviction for a minor crime won't automatically disqualify someone, but a violent crime from decades ago could.
"We reserve the right to evaluate each candidate based on their performance in the past and I think that's a legitimate thing, we won't discriminate against anyone if they've made a mistake in their lives, we'll look at the big picture and I think that's the right solution," said Gillen.
The law went into effect immediately, meaning many license renewal applications could be denied in the coming months. The fee to apply for one cab driver's license and one vehicle in Oswego is $300 per year. Before the new law it was only $30, but the fee was raised to help cover the cost of the background checks.