People don’t like being fingerprinted, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has found out. So he’s retooling a controversial tactic in the war against identity theft. Drivers who deputies cite for minor traffic offenses no longer will be asked to voluntarily give a fingerprint. Instead, drivers cited for criminal violations, such as driving more than 20 mph over the speed limit, must ink their thumbs or be jailed.
And the program is being expanded to the entire county.
Apparently, allowing people to opt out rendered the program ineffective. Since its inception in February, two-thirds of the 7,479 people cited declined the request for a print, with the pace quickening as time passed. That led to only 14 incidents in which a driver was found to be using a fake name, usually to escape arrest for other crimes.
"To be frank with you, the stupid people gave their prints," Arpaio said. "You think anybody else would give their prints if they had a problem? No.
"But now they will have to give their prints. Then we will see what the statistics show."
When Arpaio began the fingerprinting program in the district encompassing the West Valley to Gila Bend, it was immediately met with a hailstorm of criticism. The Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union cited the power disparity between deputies and drivers as creating an element of coercion,
leading to people waiving their rights.
In response, Arpaio agreed to have deputies state there were no
consequences for not cooperating.
Three months later, the program expanded to the county islands around Mesa, Apache Junction and Queen Creek. By then, the public was informed of their rights, and almost three-quarters of those cited in the East Valley kept their thumbs in their pockets.
Now, sheriff’s officials said they can jail noncompliant drivers for the same reason they can jail people who refuse to sign their criminal citations. In these instances, they said, the thumbprint and signature stand as signs of good faith the driver will appear in court.
The ACLU did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office was not consulted, said special assistant county attorney Barnett Lotstein. But he added Arpaio is not required to do so.
Beyond that, Lotstein said his office had no comment because it had not researched the program’s new direction.
It takes a day or two to run prints through the state’s database, two to three hours in priority cases, Arpaio said. He said his office is looking into technology that would allow a deputy in the field to check prints and get an immediate response. But that is at least a year away.
Arpaio admitted the current set-up allows a person suspected of identity theft or other crimes some lead time before authorities are alerted.
"But we do have leads, we have his car," Arpaio said. "It’s better than nothing."
Giving a print: Criminal violations for which people will be fingerprinted include:
• Driving more than 20 mph over speed limit
• Reckless driving
• Hit and run
• Drag racing
• Driving with suspended/canceled/ revoked license or plates
• Failure to stop for school bus stop signal