Friday, February 8, 2013

City: Taxi drivers need a clean record

Council bolsters taxi background-check ordinance

Express Staff Writer

Driver Alex Dean prepares to go on a call for A-1 Taxi in Ketchum on Wednesday. Photo by Roland Lane

Ketchum residents and visitors who prefer not to get in taxicabs or limousines driven by people with criminally violent pasts now have one more reason to relax while riding in a Ketchum-licensed cab. The City Council voted Monday to tighten up language in an ordinance that authorizes the Police Department to conduct national background checks on applicants for city cab licenses.
    Though the ordinance is not new, and the Police Department has been conducting background checks before approving cab licenses for some time, Police Chief Steve Harkins said at a council meeting Monday that the new language is required by the FBI.
    “This is language authorizing Ketchum to do background checks,” he said. “It allows us to do checks in all 50 states.”
    Councilwoman Nina Jonas asked if the city had been conducting its screenings illegally up to now. City Attorney Stephanie Bonney said no.
    “This just makes it so the FBI can’t say no [to a request from the city for a background check],” Bonney said.
    In an interview after the meeting, Bonney said the FBI can still deny a request from the city’s Police Department for a background check, but the new language “makes them happy” and gives them one less reason to not comply.
    “In reality, I doubt [the FBI] would check our ordinances first before it provided the check, but it’s still a good idea to be in compliance,” she said.  “As for why [it requires this language], the workings of the FBI are kept secret from me.”
    In an interview after the meeting, Harkins said the FBI requirement is not new, but Ketchum is amending the ordinance now because the city was previously unaware it needed to specifically authorize the Police Department to conduct the background checks.
    A report by Harkins included in the meeting packet states that the amendment accomplishes the following: First, the ordinance now indicates that the city authorizes applicant fingerprints to be submitted to the FBI. Second, the ordinance now references Idaho law as the authority that permits a local jurisdiction to enact an ordinance authorizing national background checks. Third, the ordinance now states that the city authorizes the police chief to obtain criminal history information for the screening of cab license applicants.
    At the meeting, Jonas also asked whether the police are more concerned with discovering violent criminal history or nonviolent criminal history when they conduct the checks.
    Harkins said the screenings focus mainly on violent activity.
    “It’s a good tool for us to make sure we don’t have violent criminal felons driving cabs,” he said.
    Mickey Garcia, a Ketchum resident and former cab driver in the city, agreed. He said cab drivers represent the city to visitors and the city should “look into them more.”
    Mayor Randy Hall said that if the city denies a taxi or limousine license to an applicant, the applicant can appeal the decision. He said he did not have any objection to amending the ordinance.
    “We want to keep our people safe,” he said.
    The amendment passed 3 to 1, with Jonas voting no.
    “I guess I just don’t appreciate the connection between criminal history and quality of service,” she said.

Brennan Rego:

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