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PEORIA, Ariz. -- Peoria police now have extra eyes and ears on the road. They recently partnered with some cab drivers to help them be on the lookout for suspicious behavior.

AAA Yellow Cab Company is the first private company that is part of the Peoria Police Department's "Corporate Eyes and Ears Program." The goal of the program is to reduce crime around the city by raising awareness of workers, such as cab drivers, who are on the roads every day. By improving their awareness skills, they can become better witnesses and report crime.

The training involves presentations typically lasting 30 to 40 minutes that is done in person by police officers. Employee managers then pass on the training to workers. The information can also be given in a recording shown to new employees.

"What we start with is what suspicious behavior look like," said Peoria Police Department Commander Kenneth Gentry. "We delineate that they're not being trained to be police officers."

Gentry emphasized the training is to teach them how to be good witnesses and not engage in police work.

Taxi drivers learn how to look for particular people, vehicles and behaviors, he said. Drivers are then asked to report tips online or via email if the circumstance is not immediate.

A non-emergency number is also available for them to call. During an emergency, 911 can be dialed for police to immediately respond.

Stephen Hoffenberg, a recruiter at AAA Yellow Cab Company, said including their drivers in being better witnesses is something that matters to the company to keep the community safe.

"Drivers have the unique ability to be in many different places where they can see things going on," he said. "They go to a lot of apartment buildings, housing and office buildings where police are not at all the time."

Hoffenberg said oftentimes drivers see not only crime and suspicious behavior, but also instances of dangerous situations and safety risks.

"We see a lot of DUIs," he said. "We have the option of reporting it and getting that driver off the road."

The program began in 2011 by teaching city workers the skills to stay safe on the field and pass on valuable information to police that could help deter crime.

"Everyone you see in City of Peoria vehicles, whether it's street maintenance or utilities, has been trained," he said.

The initiative has proven successful. Most of the calls they receive allow police to respond to situations before they escalate to crime. They've also caught crimes in progress, according to Gentry.

Companies that agree to partner with the Peoria Police Department are given stickers for their vehicles to advertise their employees have been trained.

The Peoria Police Department hopes more private companies will come on board and join the effort. For more information on getting involved, click here.

Martha Maurer, News Editor

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