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Another Voice: Background checks must go beyond fingerprints

By Thomas Frazier

As a 45-year veteran of law enforcement, I believe in following evidence and facts.

The opponents of ride-hailing legislation currently being considered in the New York Assembly are getting the facts wrong when it comes to safety and background checks.
In multiple studies conducted over more than a decade, the U.S. Justice Department and Government Accountability Office have found fingerprint databases to be seriously flawed. A 2015 report from the GAO concluded that the fingerprint database does not provide an accurate assessment of job applicants’ records.

The National Academy of Sciences study was “not able to find a body of evidence indicating whether fingerprinting added to safety one way or another,” and the state of Maryland recently came to the same conclusion.

In state after state, fingerprint databases have proven to have incomplete or missing records, or they are simply not up to date.
Concerns over fingerprint background checks for employment are bipartisan and national. In Congress, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has voiced serious concerns about the accuracy of fingerprint background checks.

The fact is fingerprint databases were designed to help law enforcement officers develop leads and close cases. They were never designed or intended to evaluate people for employment.
Advances in technology and record keeping mean there is more information available on potential taxi and ride-hailing drivers than ever before, if comprehensive digital background checks are performed by certified professionals like the ones Lyft uses for its safety checks.

The problems with the fingerprint background check system and the effectiveness of comprehensive digital background checks is in part why cities like Buffalo already use comprehensive digital background checks for cab drivers, not fingerprints.

These comprehensive screenings analyze local, state and federal databases to confirm identities and thoroughly evaluate prospective drivers for disqualifying criminal records. This helps ensure the safety of drivers and passengers alike.

Today, 39 states have passed legislation that requires ride-hailing companies to use professional, accredited background screeners instead of a fingerprint check. The positive impact of ride-hailing in those states is clear.

Studies have shown the availability of services like Lyft in a community reduce alcohol-related driving arrests by up to 51 percent, reduce assault and disorderly conduct arrests by up to 42 percent, and reduce DWI deaths by more than 10 percent. Smart public safety strategies are based on facts and evidence. The facts show that comprehensive digital background checks are more effective than fingerprinting.

The evidence shows that ride-hailing makes communities safer. Passing comprehensive legislation that applies the same safety standards across the state and makes ride-hailing available everywhere just makes sense.

Thomas Frazier is a former Baltimore police commissioner.

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