License, registration . . . and civil rights violation? Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Thursday ordered deputies to ask traffic violators in the south West Valley to voluntarily offer fingerprints.
The pilot program, which could expand through the county, is a way to battle the escalating problem of identity theft with stolen or falsified driver’s licenses, Arpaio said. By using fingerprints, innocent people can quickly clear their names when standing before a judge, he said.
The Federal Trade Commission said the Valley was No. 1 in the nation for identity theft complaints in 2004.
"It’s a huge problem and law enforcement needs to be proactive in fighting it," Arpaio said. The fact it’s a voluntary program "strikes out all of the defense attorneys’ arguments" about civil rights infringement.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas was not asked for his input, said Krystal Garza, deputy county attorney.
Thomas "did say that we will be discussing the matter further with Mr. Arpaio," Garza said.
For now, residents need to understand that they are not required to provide fingerprints, Garza said.
There are no provisions in the law that allow Arpaio’s deputies to request fingerprints, said Mike Black, a Valley attorney for more than 20 years.
"All of my brethren are probably scratching their heads right now, and I bet even some prosecutors are even worried about it," Black said.
"This could potentially be a very expensive experiment, depending on the circumstances of the stop," he said.
Black said that although 90 percent of the population will likely do it willingly, there are going to be people who refuse. In those cases, there’s a chance the deputy will arrest them for willful disobedience of an officer.
Unless Arpaio stops the program, it will likely come to an end through the court system.
Most people are fearful of people in positions of authority and will give up their rights when confronted by them, said Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"Even if it’s not deliberate, there’s definitely a coercive element when you’re stopped by a uniformed officer who has the power to throw you into jail, who has the authority to arrest you," Eisenberg said.
Unless police have a warrant, people should never agree to have their homes or vehicles searched or their fingerprints taken, Eisenberg said.
"How much are we going to willingly give up in terms of our privacy, our civil liberties, and as a Supreme Court justice said, in plain language, our right to be left alone?" Eisenberg asked.
Once a deputy receives your fingerprint, it will be kept on file within the sheriff ’s office, Arpaio said.
Some fingerprints, however, will be forwarded to a criminal database to be cross-checked with the fingerprints of known criminals, Arpaio said.
If there are no matches, the fingerprint will be removed from the database, Arpaio said.
If the fingerprint matches a name different than the one on the citation, a more thorough investigation will be launched.
East Valley residents Sharon Coleman of Queen Creek, Bridget Grimes of Mesa and Stephen Hall of Scottsdale said they would not give fingerprints.
"I think it’s a little bit over the top," Hall said. "I’m sure his intentions are good and there might be some benefits, but it’s not the way to go."
The program’s area will be in parts of Phoenix, Glendale, Avondale and Buckeye.
The Green Bay Police Department in Wisconsin also tried fingerprinting traffic violators, but stopped in January because of public outcry, according to a story in the Green Bay Press-Gazette.