Michigan shooting puts focus on fingerprinting for Uber drivers

The spree shootings that left six people dead in Kalamazoo, Michigan, allegedly by an Uber driver who police say admitted to the random murders before and after he picked up passengers, has once again shined a spotlight on the ride-hailing industry and its resistance to heightened background checks, including fingerprints.

By all accounts, the so-called Level 2 background checks, which include a search of national fingerprint databases, would not have prevented shooting suspect Jason Dalton from becoming a driver because, according to law enforcement officials, he had no prior criminal record. In addition, even though investigators found a large stash of weapons at his home, he had no recorded mental health issues that would block him from owning a gun, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco.

Despite the fact that an enhanced background check would not have caught Dalton in any net, it still raises the questions for public officials about the safety of strangers picking up strangers and the need to provide as many safeguards as possible to ensure riders the person behind the wheel is as clean as possible.

Uber and its peers such as Lyft, Sidecar, and others, have put massive pressure on state and local government around the country to block fingerprint mandates, often using threats and political pressure of their growing legion of customers to get officials to back down. In some areas, they’ve successfully muted the move to require fingerprinting while in other venues – the very profitable ones, such as New York and Houston, where pulling out would hurt financially – they’ve acquiesced to the mandate.

Massachusetts lawmakers are trying to fashion a bill to enact some regulations on the transportation network companies that would put some regulations in place where there are none, and one of the bills before the Joint Committee on Financial Services calls for fingerprinting ride-hailing drivers.

Uber and others have pressured legislators not to include fingerprinting, arguing it would require more out of their drivers than what’s required of taxi drivers. On the other side, the state’s police chiefs and prosecutors have urged the Legislature to adopt the fingerprinting measure as a key component to ensuring rider safety.

State law allows cities and towns to require fingerprinting of cab and livery drivers, but no community had undertaken the effort. In a fairly transparent move, however, Boston police have begun fingerprinting the city’s 6,000 cabbies even as the Legislature is nearing its final version of the bill. The message seems to be it’s good for everyone.

“We’re trying to somewhat level the playing field here,” Boston Police Commissioner William Evans told the Herald. “Our hackney drivers are held to a high standard here, and if there is a complaint we have them in… I think what happens with Uber is that there is never any face-to-face interaction. The company never sees the driver.”

Uber claims its “industry leading” background checks are more than sufficient to catch the bad guys and there’s no proof that fingerprinting would do anything more other than create a discriminatory system that hampers the ability of minorities to become drivers because of their disproportionate encounters with police, even without convictions.

But a suit in California by that state’s district attorneys says the claim that Uber’s background checks are complete is just a marketing tool and the checks are nowhere near as rigorous as those required of the taxi industry.

“In Los Angeles alone, registered sex offenders, a kidnapper, identity thieves, burglars and a convicted murderer had passed Uber’s ‘industry leading’ background check,” according to the district attorneys.

In addition, Uber had been levying a $1 “safe rides” fee on every passenger that it said was used to offset the costs of their background checks. But in a separate class action suit in California, the company agreed to change the name of the fee to just a booking fee and pay $28.5 million to settle the suit.

There seem to be almost regular reports of past and present Uber drivers being charged with crimes that endanger passengers, from assault to rape. Uber claims its technology actually helps passengers who are crime victims because it shows riders who their driver is and tracks that driver through GPS. But it didn’t seem to do much when a customer complained over the weekend that Dalton, the alleged Michigan shooter, was driving dangerously and erratically and the passenger was forced to flee the vehicle.

Uber is drawing a line in the sand and saying it has no intention of changing its process of checking drivers’ backgrounds in the wake of the shooting. At least in Massachusetts, lawmakers may do it for them in the near future.

–JACK SULLIVAN

 

BEACON HILL

The Secretary of State’s office had to reprint thousands of primary ballots after a number of cities and towns reported the wrong ink was used in the original batch, causing problems with older electronic ballot readers. (Patriot Ledger)

Many hospitals that serve uninsured and low-income patients won’t receive financial help from the state to offset their losses as Gov. Charlie Baker refuses to provide funding. (Eagle-Tribune).

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Holyoke City Council overrides two vetoes by Mayor Alex Morse on identical 13-2 votes. (Masslive)

Boston city councilors seem poised to approve a hefty pay increase for the city’s police detectives, but they say they aren’t happy about it one bit, and wag their fingers in a manner to suggest they’re putting the police unions on the equivalent of double secret probation. (Boston Globe) Mayor Marty Walsh joins the waffling brigade, saying his hands are tied, a claim the former head of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau called “a cop-out.” (Boston Herald)

Groton and Dunstable struggle with how to fund their regional school district, and even consider consolidating into one, single town. (The Sun)

Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson says Councilor-at-Large Mike Gaffney is either Worcester’s answer to Donald Trump or a victim of Facebook fraud. She leans toward the former.

Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley announces a “puppy mill bill” that would ban pet stores in the city from selling dogs, cats, and rabbits that come from commercial breeders. (Greater Boston)

The Worcester Housing Authority bans smoking inside its buildings. (Telegram & Gazette)

CASINOS

The Springfield City Council votes 12-1 in favor of the new site plan for the MGM casino. (Masslive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Governors from across the country press President Obama to develop a national response to the opioid crisis. (Governing)

ELECTIONS

They were feeling the Bern yesterday at UMass Amherst. (Boston Globe)

“Stop Trump! Oh, and vote for Kasich.” That’s the message as the Globe doubles down on its earlier John Kasich endorsement, encouraging unenrolled voters in Massachusetts to take a Republican ballot and vote for him, but the paper makes clear it sees this principally as an act of civic duty to stop Donald Trump. Trump, meanwhile, says he would like to punch a protester in the face. (Time)

The Boston Herald, which backed Chris Christie in the New Hampshire primary, throws in with Marco Rubio for next Tuesday’s Massachusetts primary now that the Christie has quit the race.

Former governor William Weld backs Kasich for president. (Associated Press) Kasich signs legislation to defund Planned Parenthood in Ohio because the organization performs abortions. (Governing)

Latino voters in Salem say they were harassed and intimidated at the polls during elections in 2012 and 2014, prompting concern from Mayor Kim Driscoll. (Salem News)

Sen. Ted Cruz fired his campaign spokesman after he sending out a misleading video on Twitter that appeared to portray Sen. Marco Rubio as being dismissive of The Bible. (New York Times)

Gov. Charlie Baker, in races not governed by campaign finance limits, taps wealthy donors for thousands of dollars being poured into his effort to elect moderates to the Republican State Committee during next Tuesday’s primary election. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

MassMutual Financial Group lays off 360 workers, or about 5 percent of its workforce, in Springfield and Enfield, Connecticut. (Masslive)

EDUCATION

Andrew Meyer, chairman of the Suffolk University board of trustees, fires back at President Margaret McKenna in a memo to fellow board members that takes issue with her charges that board dragged its feet on revising its bylaws and that its members haven’t been significant donors to Suffolk, among other things. (Boston Globe)

Boston public school Superintendent Tommy Chang meets with parents at Boston Latin School. (WBUR) Chang says he considers the case concerning racial tension at the school closed and has no plans to discipline or fire head master Lynne Mooney Teta. The two Boston Latin students who first drew attention to race issues there call for Teta to apologize over her handling of the matter. (Boston Herald)

More schools, including high schools in Lawrence and Haverhill, receive robocall bomb threats, drawing the attention of state and federal law enforcement officials,. (Eagle-Tribune)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds the prevalence of the sexually transmitted HPV among young women has been reduced by two-thirds in the six years since officials recommended vaccinating teenage girls against the cancer-causing virus. (U.S. News & World Report)

TRANSPORTATION

An MBTA fare hike seems almost certain; the only question is how big it will be. (CommonWealth) MBTA officials report success in reining in operating expenses. (CommonWealth) Meanwhile, a backup fleet helps keep T buses on the roads. (CommonWealth)

An audit finds that the T worker who racked up 2,600 hours of overtime and earned $360,000 last year approved his own extra time. (Boston Herald)

The T and its workers will have to begin kicking in more money to the authority’s pension fund. (Boston Globe)

The state is either giving Michael Dukakis’s beloved North-South Rail Link another look — or throwing the former governor and his rail pals a bone — with $2 million for a study of the idea of connecting North Station and South Station. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

An Eastham company is building three massive non-polluting incinerators for use in China that will turn waste into environmentally friendly biochar that will be used as fertilizer for barren land. (Cape Cod Times)

Private water supplier Aquaria, under pressure from Brockton officials to push harder to sell water from the desalination plant in Dighton that right now only serves Brockton, says it will pitch its product to Taunton for its planned golf course expansion even though that city says it has no interest. (The Enterprise)

Angry homeowners along Scituate’s Peggotty Beach claim town officials aren’t doing enough to protect the beach and dunes and are worried that mounds of sand washed across the road from recent storms will hamper first responders if an emergency arises. (Patriot Ledger)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A 16-year-old is under arrest for the daylight fatal stabbing of a 15-year-old in Dorchester. (Boston Herald) A vigil for the slain teen turns harrowing with talk that someone gathered there had a gun. (Boston Herald)

A State Police officer is suspended and scheduled to be arraigned on charges that he assaulted a Belchertown police officer investigating a traffic accident involving the trooper’s wife. (Masslive)

A Cambridge police officer is on paid leave, suspected of being the hit-and-run driver who hit a bicyclist in the city on Sunday. (Boston Globe)

A state audit determined the Fall River District Court lost out on $850,000 in revenue from probationers as well as lost track of how many community service hours each offender has served because of a lack of a centralized accounting system. (Herald News)

A new law making fentanyl trafficking illegal takes effect. (Masslive)

Lowell police make their first seizure under a new ordinance banning replica handguns. Police confiscated a pellet gun, two BB guns, and a starter pistol. (The Sun)

A former Connecticut man has filed a federal suit against the Marlborough police chief and officers claiming he was beaten and refused medical treatment after an officer arrested him while searching for an armed robbery suspect in 2012. (MetroWest Daily News)

MEDIA

Margaret Sullivan, the public editor at the New York Times, is moving to the Washington Post to write a weekly media column. (Washington Post)

Matt Carroll, a member of the Boston Globe Spotlight team featured in the movie Spotlight, offers his take on the film, which he calls “truthful fiction.” (Medium)