Saturday, September 25, 2004

Police Fingerprinting at Common Traffic Stops

Police put ID initiative into action
Fingerprinting plan could make tracking criminals easier.
Beverly Corbell
bcorbell@theadvertiser.com

September 23, 2004

LAFAYETTE — Identity thieves and other criminals may be easier to track with a new fingerprinting system that Lafayette police will put into effect in about a week.

The program would be the first of its kind in the state, officials said.

Local banks donated hundreds of small fingerprint pads that officers will use at the scene of a traffic stop when there is doubt about the person’s identity, said interim Chief Randy Hundley at a news conference Wednesday.

He said identity theft and people giving false names to law enforcement is common in Lafayette.

Sometimes, that can mean an innocent person’s name is used by someone who gets arrested, and when they don’t show up for court, officers arrest a person who didn’t do anything wrong.

“We’ve had several people arrested who were innocent,” said City Marshal Earl Picard, including a woman who used her sister’s name after she was arrested for shoplifting.

“There was a time when we took a person’s driver’s license and they had to get a temporary license until their court date,” Picard said. “But the Legislature stopped that, and that’s why we have so many missed court dates.”

Picard said fingerprinting could also be used to identify accident victims.

Judge David Saloom said those most likely to be fingerprinted are people with no driver’s license or expired or suspended licenses.

“We have a serious identity theft problem and with people in traffic court giving us false names or family names,” he said.

Saloom said that the program is a pilot, but if it works, it could be expanded.

It’s that experimental nature of the new fingerprinting plan that worries Joe Cook, president of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the fact that it’s a change in police procedure.

“Normally, a person is charged with a crime and booked into the jail before they do any fingerprinting,” he said. “I would need to know more about the details of their policy and how they would use the information once they have it.”

Cook said that because the new practice is experimental, people could be sacrificing their rights.

“When you put your fingerprint in a database, you don’t know what’s going to happen to it,” he said.