I DON’T drive to Arima because I’m not sure if I’m still wanted for armed robbery in the East. No one has ever informed me that my case has been officially closed. This might seem like a joke, but on the day in question it was a dead serious matter.
Now, the talk surfacing about the Licensing Office having a special register for taxi drivers has dredged up the whole unpleasant incident of the time I was investigated for armed robbery. That day still horrifies me 18 years later.
It happened like this: one day, I got a call from a Maloney police officer who asked quite politely if I had been in Arima at midday when an armed robbery and a shootout occurred at a warehouse. I said, “No, I was at the International School teaching.”
The officer said my blue Almera with my licence plate number had been identified by several people as the car at the scene of the crime. I gasped. And then I remembered I hadn’t left the school for the day – not even to go to the mall for lunch. I explained this to the police officer.
“Did you lend your car to anyone?” he asked.
Although I’m not in the habit of hanging out with armed robbers, and I never lend my car to anyone, I still stopped to think about the question carefully and said, “No.”
By then I felt panicky. How could this be happening? The officer said to think about the matter just to make sure I had made no mistakes, and he would call me back later. He said I should prepare a list of people who could vouch for me.
My 13-year-old son, Zino, offered a solution that shook me from my torpor. He said, “Just go to the police station and show your face. Once the police see you are an old lady with no life, you’ll get off that charge easily.”
But the burden of proof was still on me.
I called the head of security at school and he vouched for me with the police. He said neither I nor my car had left the premises on that day. We had a sign-out sheet at work for every time we left the school, and the running joke every year after that during the orientation for new teachers was “please don’t forget to sign out when you leave the school because you never know when you will be charged with armed robbery.”
“How could this happen to me?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s not uncommon,” the police officer said. “Criminals often buy licence plate numbers to match the colour and make of the car they are going to commit a crime with.”
The officer’s casual tone and acceptance of this shocked me. It seemed to me there was only one place to buy licence plate numbers that match the description of someone’s car. The officer named the place and didn’t seem the least bit bothered about it.
I wondered what other repercussions there might be for me from this armed robbery. Would other crimes be committed with my car number? What if the car number was listed in a newspaper story? Would I ever feel safe driving my car again? Well, the answer was no. I never felt safe again in that car.
I never felt comfortable in that car again. Eighteen years later, I am still stunned as to how easy it is to have your licence plate number stolen. Police have even told me that licence plates don't die, so to speak, with cars that are totalled. They are put to good use by criminals. We’ve come to accept how easy it is to steal a person’s identity. It’s just as easy to steal a car’s licence plate number.
Every time you read about a crime with a false licence plate number on it, don’t assume that a criminal just went and had some random number printed somewhere. Chances are it’s a real number that has been stolen from someone.
So I can’t say that any plan to have taxis registered with the Licensing Office gives me any sense of pleasure or security. Demand another place for a national registry. The Licensing Office has never created a feeling of honesty or trust in my mind. It’s not known for its efficiency. I can’t think of one redeeming quality to mention for the Licensing Office so tread carefully with this idea of a national registry for taxis.