Fingerprint program aims at rooting out 'bad element'

April 21, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

Applicants for public housing in Hagerstown now must go through state and national criminal background checks and, if they've ever been convicted of a crime, be fingerprinted.

Although local housing authorities are not required to fingerprint housing applicants, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development allows the process.

The Hagerstown Housing Authority operates under HUD guidelines.

Hagerstown's housing authority adopted the fingerprinting procedure about eight months ago as another way to screen applicants.

"We do it because we're trying very hard to get rid of the bad element," said Ted Shankle, executive director of the Hagerstown Housing Authority.

If a criminal background check shows a housing applicant has been convicted of a crime, the housing authority sends a letter to the person stating they must be fingerprinted at the Hagerstown Police Department to further the application process, said George Siebert, director of security for the city housing authority.


If the person agrees to be fingerprinted, it costs the housing authority $24, he said.

The fingerprints then are mailed to the FBI where they are processed, Siebert said.

Usually people who have something to hide won't pursue the application process once they find out they have to be fingerprinted, Shankle said.

"It has weeded some of them out," Siebert said.

Since the housing authority started requiring fingerprints of applicants convicted of a crime, about 57 percent who applied for housing have not followed through, Siebert said.

Checking criminal backgrounds through the National Crime Information Center has proven to be necessary for the Hagerstown area since it's close to Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, he said.

In addition to the criminal background check, housing officials conduct a one-on-one interview with applicants, check credit histories, and contact housing references dating back five years, among other screening methods, Siebert said.

"It's quite a thorough screening process," said Shankle.

The criminal background checks and fingerprinting program has been adopted by housing authorities nationwide, Shankle said.

Hagerstown's housing authority operates 1,180 public housing units.

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