A spate of taxi drivers accused of sexually assaulting women in Halifax has police investigating the perpetrators and offering safety tips to the public.

There have been 14 sexual assault complaints in the Halifax area against taxi drivers over the last five years.

"It's horrible and it shouldn't happen, but we have a great number of cab drivers that are out there doing their job day in and day out, getting people to their destinations," said Insp. Lindsay Herndon of the Halifax Regional Police.

"For many of them, it's incredibly concerning to have these incidents going on by a handful of individuals that are tarnishing their entire industry."

Police earlier said there had been 12 sexual assault complaints against taxi drivers in the last five years, but provided updated numbers on Thursday.

What police know about the people involved

In seven of the 14 cases, police have identified suspects. Police have identified six suspects, meaning they believe one of them is connected to two of the attacks — but they would not give any other details.

Police say the attackers are men, mostly with dark hair and aged between 30 and 50. Most spoke with an accent and many had moustaches.

Insp. Lindsay Herndon

Halifax Regional Police Insp. Lindsay Herndon says people taking cabs should believe wholeheartedly that they are safe. (CBC)

In 11 of the 14 cases reported in the last five years, the victims were women aged 19 to 25. In most cases, the passenger sat in the front seat. In each case, the passenger was alone in the taxi or the driver waited until other passengers had left.

"In many of the incidents, the offenders insisted on no payment for the drive either before or after committing the sexual assault," Halifax Regional Police said.

"The offenders often asked personal questions and attempted to flatter the victim."

What police know about what happened

In 10 of the 14 cases, the assaults involved the taxi driver touching the woman in a sexual manner or forcibly kissing her, both during the ride and at the destination.

Some of the men asked for a kiss or pulled the victim in closer.

All of the attacks happened between 8:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. in the downtown core. Police say they happened primarily on weekends in the spring and summer.

Police said they will not reveal which cab companies were involved.

Are more attacks happening this year?

Yes. The Halifax Regional Police crime analysis unit reviewed cases over the last five years and found 14 sexual assault complaints against taxi drivers:

  • 2012: 3 reported attacks
  • 2013: 1 reported attacks
  • 2014: 1 reported attacks
  • 2015: 4 reported attacks
  • 2016 so far: 5 reported attacks

Police laid charges in five cases and closed five due to a "lack of solvability" — but they say that could change if police receive additional information or can tie an individual to one of those cases.

One of the cases was closed one at the woman's request, and three remain under investigation.

What are police doing?

The police sexual assault investigation team is working the cases and talking with taxi companies to identify the perpetrators.

Beat cops are talking to bar staff and bar patrons about protecting personal safety.

"This is not the victims' fault. These women have done nothing wrong," said Herndon.

"A person going to the downtown core of Halifax that is taking a cab home at the end of the night should believe wholeheartedly that they are safe. We want to find these men and hold them accountable."

What can I do?

Police have offered these safety tips:

  • Call a taxi instead of hailing one so there's a record of your request and which driver has been dispatched.
  • Take a photo of the taxi company name and the roof light number, or write them down. Inside the cab, note the taxi licence and driver licence photo. 
  • Make sure the taxi has a meter. If it doesn't, get out and report it to 311. 
  • Sit in the back seat on the right-hand side so you're far from the driver and near the curb if you need to get out quickly.
  • Keep your phone in your hand or nearby. 

With files from the CBC's Stephanie Skenderis