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Mass. police chiefs urge fingerprinting for Uber drivers

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A man left the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco.Eric Risberg

The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association has added its clout to the call for mandatory fingerprinting of drivers hired by ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

In a recent letter to state legislative leaders, who are considering broader regulation, the chiefs wrote such a step would ensure that applicants with criminal records could not hide them by providing fake identities.

"There is no dispute that biometrics, like fingerprints, serve as the best way to identify any individual," the chiefs said.

Uber executives declined to comment specifically on the letter. However, an Uber official who asked not to be identified said the company uses Checkr, a third-party vendor, to uncover any local, county, state, and federal crimes committed by prospective drivers.


"We are working with the Legislature to ensure sensible regulations are put in place to allow the benefits of ride-sharing to spread to more riders and more drivers," an Uber spokeswoman said.

The letter from the chiefs echoes a recent call for fingerprinting from Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, who testified at the State House in September that current background checks by companies such as Uber are inadequate.

"These chiefs are the ones out there on the ground, and they're seeing what we're seeing," Evans said in an interview Wednesday.

He said Uber does not check further than seven years in the past, cannot access the sex-offender registry as Boston police can, and has spurned an offer by the city to help scrutinize its drivers.

"They're in a big hurry to get these drivers on the road," Evans said. "We just want to make sure Uber drivers are held to the same standards'' as Boston taxi drivers.

These taxi drivers undergo lifetime checks for criminal records and driving infractions, the commissioner said. Within a month, he added, fingerprinting will begin in Boston for all current and prospective cab drivers.


Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh reiterated his support Wednesday for fingerprinting of drivers hired by ride-hailing services, which can be summoned within minutes through a mobile app on cellphones and other electronic devices.

"We want to make sure whoever is picking up customers in the city – and now across the state – that they have adequate background checks and that they are someone suitable to be driving. We do it for all of our hackney drivers; we should do it statewide," Walsh said.

Fingerprinting already is being used in New York for background checks of Uber drivers, the police chiefs said.

The Uber official said Checkr runs a Social Security trace to identify addresses associated with a potential driver for the past seven years and then uses this information to search national, state, and local databases for convictions. If a potential criminal record is found, the official said, Checkr reviews the record in person at the relevant courthouse or, if possible, pulls the record digitally.

Background checks also include motor-vehicle registration files, which include information about speeding and other moving violations, the Uber official said.

In the Legislature, three bills to regulate ride-hailing services are being considered by the joint Committee on Financial Services. A bill proposed by Governor Charlie Baker would not require fingerprinting, but one sponsored by Senator Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester and Representative Michael Moran of Brighton would make that step mandatory.

Senator James Eldridge of Acton, who co-chairs the committee, said Wednesday he is confident that a bill regulating the companies will be passed this session.


Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.