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Police Departments Fingerprinting kids

Canton Rep | September 16, 2007
Lori Monsewicz

Not one of the 300 youngsters that Stark sheriff's deputies fingerprinted at the Stark County Fair this summer was a criminal.

Like thousands of law enforcement agencies, civic groups and organizations across the nation, the sheriff's department asked children to place their pinkies and all of their other digits on record in the name of safety.

Sheriff Tim Swanson said his department never has had to use a fingerprint to identify a youngster.

Neither has Jackson Township Police Maj. Dave Zink. His department will do so when asked by a parent.

"If there would be a tragedy, it would be a time (the need for prints) would come into play," Zink said. "It's like insurance: You hope you never have a need for it."

So why do it?

Because all disappearances do not end in tragedy, said Lt. Jerry Steiner of the Canton Police Department's detective bureau. Kids missing for years have been found alive, some without the ability to admit their true identities.

"Say a kid gets abducted 5, 6 or 7 years or longer and after a while these kids get brainwashed in such a way that they forget who they even are," he said. An old fingerprint card could positively identify a child.

Hairstyles and color, height and weight can change, but fingerprints do not.

PRINTS, PICTURES ON RECORD

Swanson's deputies use the CompuLink laptop computer program to record children's fingerprints at the Stark County Fair each summer and at countless other events throughout the year.

Bruce McAllister, Internet technology manager at the sheriff's department, they record the child's name, birthdate, address, height, weight, eye and hair color, race and blood type, "if the parent knows it," he said. Also noted are the child's dentist's name and phone number should identification by dental records become necessary, and whether the child has braces, wears eyeglasses or has any other distinguishing scars or birthmarks.

The program asks for four fingerprints - both index fingers and both thumbprints.

A child need only place his finger or thumb on a small glass window on what looks like a computer mouse called the Biometric SecureTouch Fingerprint Device, which takes a digital picture of the fingerprint, McAllister said.

A camera snaps a digital photograph of the child, and all of the information is downloaded onto a floppy disk, which McAllister said costs the department about 11 cents apiece.

The disk is free for parents, created "as a public service," McAllister said. The sheriff's department retains no copies and doesn't download information into its computers.

Better still, he said, parents reporting a missing child can e-mail the information from their home computers to any law enforcement agency, the agencies then can download the information directly into the Amber Alert system. An Amber Alert broadcast can cover an area within a 65- to 100-mile radius, he said.

Swanson said that while the child's information isn't retained by his department, "Most parents probably wouldn't mind that. However, there are parents who would object for that information to go into any database."

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recommends that only parents or guardians store the fingerprints, according to its Web site.

UNWANTED ATTENTION

Many parents don't want anyone else to have their child's fingerprints.

The American Civil Liberties Union is concerned about schools across the nation adopting policies that involve biometrics technology that use fingerprints for other reasons.

An Aug. 21 The Associated Press noted that in Ohio, Circleville schools planned to join Akron and seven other districts in the state by adding biometrics technology, a software system that allows students to pay for their lunches through prerecorded fingerprints.

Carrie Davis, staff attorney for the ACLU said a child's fingerprints could be stored with student records which are protected by the Federal Education Records Privacy Act, a federal law that prohibits mass disclosure of student information.

"But there are exceptions to what's considered to be directory information," information that could be released for a variety of reasons, she said.

Davis said parents could be concerned that a school would release their child's fingerprints to police officers investigating a crime or release them to anyone else who asks.

"Are (school officials) going to disclose this to others, such as the police if they need it? Or are they going to share it with marketing companies? How long do they keep (the prints)? If you have an elementary school using fingerprints to access library books or school meal programs, what happens if that student is no longer at that school? Any time they start collecting this data, you need to have rules ..."

BIOMETRIC TECH EVENT

At 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 29, Spitzer Chevrolet at 7111 Sunset Strip NW in Jackson Township will sponsor a program called the DNA Lifeprint Child Safety Event featuring biometric fingerprinting and DNA identification kits.

Sherri St. Myer-Rauch, company spokesman, said in a news release that the technology DNA Lifeprint uses will enable a missing child's parents to submit the recorded prints into an FBI database when the missing child report is made.

"When a child's fingerprints are entered into the FBI database, the fingerprints become immediately available to all law enforcement agencies throughout the United States," she said.

The program promises the following free of charge:

an FBI-certified biometric 10-digit fingerprint profile;

a high-resolution, full-color, digital photograph of the child;

a Child Safety Journal to contain vital information about the child and other information that could prove useful if the child is reported missing;

a Home DNA Identification Kit with detailed instructions on how to use it.

St. Myer-Rauch recommends updating the information every six months.

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