Some law enforcement agencies still use paper fingerprinting – for now

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

One police agency within the Roaring Fork School District can still provide fingerprints for background checks on would-be classroom volunteers the old-fashioned way — on paper and without a mandatory citizenship question — at least for now.

“What they’re trying to do is move everybody to electronic fingerprints,” Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling said of a new directive from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. “We’re still doing it here manually, and will take anyone who wants to come in and get fingerprinted.”

Questions arose recently when some Latino parents in the Valley Settlement Project’s Parent Mentor Program lodged complaints with the Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education over a U.S. citizenship question that’s asked on an electronic form before they can be fingerprinted using the new digital system.

The school board is now revisiting its volunteer vetting policy, which specifically requires fingerprinting as part of the background check process.

It’s also looking at options regarding the continued use of fingerprinting for certain types of volunteers, sans the citizenship question. Board members agreed the question seems unnecessary for background check purposes, but that they don’t want to compromise student safety.

For his part, Schilling said he would prefer to do the fingerprinting for walk-in customers as a community service, rather than defer to a third-party vendor.

At least through 2021, Schilling said he’s been advised by the CBI that his department can still use ink cards and that they will be scanned and processed for criminal background checks.

Once the electronic systems are required, Schilling said he hopes Carbondale can continue to provide that service locally.

According to Susan Medina, spokeswoman for the CBI, if a police agency is currently providing fingerprinting services using the manual system, they can continue to do that. However, many of the old fingerprint scanning machines in the state will need to be replaced by December 2021, she said.

“The CBI is transitioning to the electronic submission of fingerprints for many reasons, such as security and better quality control,” Medina said. “However, we will continue to work with each agency to accomplish that goal. There is no time frame for that full transition at this point.”

The citizenship question comes from the FBI, she said, “but it’s my understanding that answering the question is not mandated as part of the background check process.”

Some parents said, however, that the form will not allow them to proceed without answering the question one way or another.

Other police agencies, including Glenwood Springs Police, have already switched to the new electronic system using vendors approved by CBI.

Glenwood Interim Police Chief Bill Kimminau explained that applicants must complete the electronic form then schedule an appointment to have their fingerprints taken.

“The last I was told is the only way CBI would take the ink cards would be for someone out of state,” he said.

In any case, he said the department decided to switch over to using the new electronic system. The department now hosts one of the vendors on-site, Identogo, to provide the service.

The concern among parents is not the fingerprinting requirement itself, but the citizenship question, Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein said.

Stein said the district has also done some more research on the issue regarding background checks for volunteers.

Of 56 Colorado School Districts with 1,500 students or more, Stein said less than half have formal volunteer policies, and only 21 districts require background checks on all volunteers.

The local district could move to a system where classroom volunteers who, under the direct supervision of a teacher, would not need to have a background check. Some districts only require background checks for volunteers who do not have that supervision, he said.

Schilling said he supports the continued use of fingerprints as an extra security measure beyond just a name-based background check.

“We can do the background checks, but my concern is that people might not give you their right name,” Schilling said. “Without the fingerprints you don’t know if you’re doing a background check on the person who’s there in front of you.”

The school board is set to consider options regarding its background check policies at its Oct. 23 meeting.