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Grand Rapids modifies its fingerprint policy

Dec 2, 2015

Credit Alan Levine / flickr creative commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Grand Rapids police will no longer routinely take fingerprints from people who cannot produce identification when questioned by an officer in the field.

Police Chief David Rahinsky said under the new policy, fingerprints will be taken from people without ID when police consider their behavior suspicious.

"If we come in contact with an individual whose behavior causes the officer alarm but doesn't rise to the level of allowing the officer to effect an arrest, we still want to have the ability to ask for a consensual fingerprint," said Rahinsky.

Rahinsky said the police department will train officers to make clear that individuals in these circumstances can refuse to give their fingerprints. 

One goal of the new policy is to improve police-community relations, according to Rahinsky.

"In the past, anytime we came in contact with someone who didn't have identification, as a matter of practice we would ask them for a fingerprint," said Rahinsky. "This year we were on page to take over 2,000 fingerprints. So taking a look at best practices, taking a look at community relations, listening to the community, we recognize that's not the type of relationship we want to have with the people we serve."

Rahinsky said he expects the number of fingerprints collected each year to be reduced to about 100 under the new policy.

Miriam Aukerman, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the modifications to the fingerprint policy are not enough and Grand Rapids should end the practice entirely.

"Law enforcement can obtain fingerprints as part of an arrest, but not to merely identify or track innocent people," said Aukerman in a written statement. "Grand Rapids is not a police state where officers are permitted to take citizens' fingerprints without probable cause for arrest. It is disturbing that the city would create a biometric database of young people – many of them likely youths of color – when these kids haven't been arrested for anything."