Skateboarders must register their thumbprint before they can enter a public park in order to prevent vandalism and crime.
When you think fingerprints, it's most often a law-and-order type of thing. You know, jail bookings, crime scene.
So when the city of Poway in north San Diego County approved a new high-tech entry system that requires skaterboarders to press a thumb pad on a turnstile before they can even think of grinding the rails, it raised a lot of eyebrows and looks of, oh brother, Big Brother.
I cut my teeth on a skateboard growing up. Literally chipped my front tooth trying to out-skate my big brother. But it was a ton of fun nonetheless and there's this certain sense of freedom and creativity that goes along with the experience, so it's sort of a strange concept for a kid to have to give up his/her prints.
The new restrictions at the Poway Skate Park are supposed to curb vandalism and criminal elements. The already existing security cameras are getting upgraded. And apparently the thumbprint scanner can be programmed to allow only skaters of certain ages to use the park at certain times. The park closes at 8 p.m.
Park users who break the rules will have their thumbprint revoked and will be denied entry the next time they try to skate. The ACLU says it's "overkill." One city official says if it works, a lot of other cities will follow. One city councilman says it's not "Big Brother. The thumbprints are not going to Homeland Security. They're being used specifically for this particular facility, and we want people to enjoy it."
Enjoy it. Right. Miki Vuckovich knows the thrill as well as the fun of skateboarding. Not only is he best buds with one of the best in the sport, Tony Hawk, he's the executive director of the Tony Hawk Foundation, which has helped fund 463 public skate parks in the country and worked with 1,500 communities. California, he says, has the most skate parks in the country with 200. Vuckovich adds he stopped skating at the park years ago because of the tall fence around it, saying, "It gives it a penitentiary feel."
The thumbprint turnstile entry is the "most creative and literally the most outlandish thing I've every heard of. It's unprecedented among the 3,000 skate parks across the country," says Vuckovich who is also a noted skateboard photographer. "It's completely counter to the free form of going skateboarding and relaxing, doing something personal and expressive and athletic. It's like checking into jail. It will drive people away and put youths at greater risk, driving them to skate in the streets and into traffic."
Some comments on blog posts include: "I'd rather just give them a urine sample." "It's getting out of hand, thumb printing in the Parks!"
But regardless of opinion, it's legal if it's used for the purpose of keeping bad elements out and not used for the purposes of prosecution, says professor David Steinberg of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law.
"If it is used in a criminal case, then it gets stickier" he added.
As to whether or not it's a good idea, Steinberg points out that we live in a democracy. There could be public protest or city officials can be voted out of office to keep such measures from being approved.
It cost a million bucks to build the Skate Park and $50,000 to install the new scanner and upgrades to protect that investment from criminal elements. By the way, the sheriff's station is around the corner.