Taxi drivers are being trained as security guards to cut response times to burglar alarms at suburban homes and commercial properties.
The plan has divided the security industry. Some say the idea is innovative, but others are worried about the potential safety risk.
First Response New Zealand - a joint venture between security veteran Paul Staples and Alert Taxis - promises to have a driver at the site of a possible break-in within 15 minutes of the burglar alarm being triggered.
Alarm-monitoring firms contract the new company to send the nearest security-trained driver, rather than the traditional security guard, to the scene.
Once there, the driver will search the property and advise whether a burglary has occurred.
If the property has been broken into, the driver will act as "eyes and ears" and protect the crime scene until police arrive, said Mr Staples, who has worked in the security industry for more than 20 years.
"When the alarm goes off, homeowners want to know whether it's a genuine break or a false alarm as quickly as possible.
"Taxis are everywhere, around every corner. You couldn't get the police or a traditional security guard to turn up that fast."
If First Response was slower than 15 minutes, the $65 call-out fee would be waived.
Mr Staples said cabs carrying passengers would not be sent to check alarms.
More than 100 Alert Taxi drivers had been trained as security guards to a Level 2 Qualifications Authority accreditation and were licensed, he said.
The dual taxi driver-security guard idea has provoked a mixed reaction.
NZ Security Association chairman Peter Freeman said security professionals need to be properly trained to handle high-risk situations, and had to be focused on the job.
Serious risks would be involved if an organisation whose prime role was to pick up and deliver passengers from A to B began attending alarm callouts.
"We would be very concerned as to what a taxi driver attending a burglary would be able to do if confronted by an offender," Mr Freeman said.
"The offender would not recognise the taxi driver as anything but a taxi driver, and the presence of the driver, his car and his cash takings would be more likely to add complications to a volatile situation."
Paragon Investigations co-director Dan Thompson said the concept was innovative.
"There have always been arguments about response times to alarms - it can be anywhere up to 40 minutes in Auckland because it's a big city.
"This is good for homeowners who want someone at their house quicker."
Matrix Security chief executive Scott Carter said the idea was "peculiar at first glance". Most alarms were responded to within 15 minutes anyway.
"Put yourself in the shoes of a homeowner or business person. If they're serious about security, do they really think having a taxi driver turn up to investigate an alarm activation is a good idea?"
Mr Staples dismissed Mr Freeman's concerns about taxi drivers being hurt, saying they were vigorously trained, and most burglars had left the scene within 60 to 90 seconds of an alarm sounding.
Whenever the guards left the taxi to scour a property, they would carry an emergency remote control which activated a global positioning system (GPS) device and an open communication channel to the control centre if the button was pushed.
"In terms of danger, our guys are in no greater danger as security guards than they were as cabbies," said Mr Staples.
"Our guards are on their way to observe, identify and protect the area if there is a break-in. There is no difference between a security guard working for a company like Armourguard or Matrix and us."
Mr Staples went into voluntary bankruptcy in 2006 as a shareholder in a security firm.
Alert Taxi co-director Rob van Heiningen said security training "would hold drivers in good stead" in dealing with drunk or dangerous passengers. With GPS technology in the taxi, there would be no problems in the driver finding the correct location.
Taxi Federation executive director Tim Reddish did not know of the taxi-security venture, but said he had no concerns if the drivers were trained and certified.By Jared Savage @jaredsavageNZH Email Jared