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Anewalt's landscape contracting license is good for eight years. To renew it, you need to pass an exam. New Orleans Police Department Officer Al Nieves passed it last month.

For Nieves, that exam took just over an hour. But this was just one part of a broader training course that involved more than two-and-a-half days of instruction.

"This is the first day of class, and we already have a test day with the [exam] proctors, so we're here to get them all caught up on how to proceed," he said.

Nieves said he started working on a construction crew at the age of 12, and he has since earned his bachelor's degree in criminology.

The Louisiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) says it is not currently planning any changes to its current system.

But even if there are no sweeping changes coming to the BMV's license exam rules, the BMV says it's not taking any chances. And that's because Louisiana is taking steps to ensure that no one ever needs to sit through an exam again.

State law mandates that all newly hired state and city police and sheriffs take a three-hour-long class on the state's criminal justice system. But after that, there are no more training requirements. And that's because the class is designed to be the first rung on the ladder to a police career.

While the state says the class is an adequate preparation for law enforcement, others say that's not enough. And some worry that a focus on teaching criminal justice in a classroom setting will cause some folks to lose sight of what it takes to make law enforcement happen.

A Class Not For Everyone

In New Orleans, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) helps the city run its fingerprint system.

And when people pass through the city's borders to get into and out of town, a record of everyone in a vehicle is taken.

As is the case in many police departments across the state, the process can require police officers to take a few minutes out of their shifts to print and submit fingerprint cards to the state.

Now in training, the state expects its officers to pass the course. It even gives them a pass if they make a mistake on their first attempt.

Those passes could soon be worthless, however, says Sgt. Steve McCarty, the ATF's special agent in charge in New Orleans.

"The Louisiana Department of Criminal Justice and Corrections is not going to accept the pass no matter how good it is," he says.

McCarty says the class helps law enforcement officers better understand criminal laws and the criminal justice system, and it trains them to detect weapons and explosives.

He also says that passing a state fingerprint card isn't the same thing as becoming a law enforcement officer. But if the state gets more officers who have passed the fingerprinting course, he says, he expects that to help, especially in cases like the city's that involve a lot of guns and drugs.

"That's going to reduce your workload and your man hours by some quantity," he says.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Here's an interesting bit of law enforcement that may surprise you. This from Louisiana: the police are being retrained to take fingerprints of suspected criminals and turn them over to the state to keep on file. But these officers already pass a rigorous training course. Now they're being retrained again for the job.

NPR's Greg Myre has the story.

GREG MYRE reporting: When police officers stop people on the street in Louisiana, they can take the fingerprints of a criminal suspect and turn them over to the state. It's a routine, but it does take time.And on a busy day, that can add up to a few minutes a shift. So to speed up the process, the Louisiana Criminal Justice and Corrections department is retraining the police to take fingerprints, too. The result could be fewer, more thorough investigations.

Officer Keith Thomas is training his colleagues.

KEITH THOMAS: It would allow us to get to the bottom of cases quicker, faster and with the least amount of work to actually get the suspect into a holding cell.

MYRE: And for a time, officers can keep those fingerprints even after they're cleared.

THOMAS: Yes.

MYRE: But some civil libertarians are skeptical. The ACLU says there are constitutional issues with keeping fingerprints in a database.

NATHAN LAWSON: It's certainly something that I would have second thoughts about. I think it's something that should be considered by a careful legislature and with a full understanding of the long-term consequences.

MYRE: A spokesperson for the Louisiana Criminal Justice and Corrections says it's no different than police searching a database.

BRIAN SMITH: If there's any evidence that that person's been convicted of a crime, then they'll run a fingerprint check on them. That would have to be cleared with the court of course, before you could run the check.

MYRE: That might take years.

MYRE: Officer Keith Thomas has seen some of the results.

THOMAS: They've brought this person to the jail and got this person to go in there, I would say about 90 to 95 percent of the time.

MYRE: He says he's found about 400 warrants that have come up through his own work alone.

THOMAS: That's all it takes to get me really excited and get me really motivated to go ahead and get the fingerprint check done. It will really help the police department in that way.

MYRE: Officers in South Baton Rouge already have their fingerprints checked against the database. But the district attorney's office says it takes time to approve warrants. So they want to give it to the police.So officers can search on their own.

The ACLU says it's about privacy and checks on an average of 20 arrests per day. The parish's criminal justice plan calls for checks on 500 arrests a day.

SMITH: At some point in time the public is going to have to realize, yes this is going on but it's not going on all the time, it's just for certain places.

MYRE: At least the program could help officers find evidence to make arrests quicker, says the ACLU.

SMITH: If we can really get this implemented it would be a tremendous asset to help us get the individuals to the jail faster. And that would be one of the greatest impacts.

MYRE: They've also created new categories for warrants that are to be released in other parts of the parish.



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