Thursday, October 05, 2000

Ohio knew about flawed driver's licenses


Failure to inform public, police raises concerns

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        State officials have known since July that some Ohio driver's licenses and state IDs — including possibly 400 in the Cincinnati area — were issued bearing another state's security hologram.

        But they didn't make the error public until The Cincinnati Enquirer questioned them after learning that a Miami University student was detained by Oxford police last week because they thought she had passed a fake ID to get into a bar.

        Since July, hundreds of licenses have been issued to drivers in the Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo areas with an Arkansas hologram after a vendor shipped the wrong supplies to 20 license bureaus, said a spokeswoman for the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (OBMV).

        Four of the bureaus are in the Cincinnati area. Drivers who have had their licenses issued since July at bureaus in Forest Park, Price Hill, Avondale-Roselawn and Har rison are being urged to double-check the holograms on their cards.

        They should return faulty cards to the issuing bureau for a free replacement if they find the dime-size hologram of the Arkansas state seal stripped across the bottom, state officials said.

        The correct holograms — of the Ohio seal — are nearly quarter-size and are interspersed throughout licenses and identification cards.

        OBMV spokeswoman Julie Stebbins said state officials had estimated that more than 500 bad licenses were issued, but a local motor vehicles official indicated the problem may be more widespread.

        Ms. Stebbins said the state has worked to recall the licenses and identification cards, but she did not know specifically how many were returned.

        The problem surfaced around mid-July, she said, when a deputy registrar in Toledo reported that it had erroneously issued licenses bearing the Arkansas hologram. The OBMV contacted all deputy registrars in the state after the problem was reported again a month later, Ms. Stebbins said.

        But the state chose not to tell the public. Instead, it was left up to deputy registrars to contact Ohioans who might have received the faulty cards, Ms. Stebbins said.

        “They are independent contractors, and they have the responsibility to serve their customers,” she said.

        An OBMV field representative for Hamilton, Clermont, Brown and Adams counties said Wednesday he knew nothing of the problem until Monday — the same day police agencies in Ohio were advised of the mix-up through a statewide law enforcement computer network. OBMV officials issued a press release to the media Tuesday.

        Field representative Greg Gray said he learned of the mistake Monday, when his supervisor called him from Columbus headquarters and asked him to begin checking local records to identify drivers who had received the faulty cards.

        On Wednesday, he was at the Forest Park bureau on West Kemper Road, attempting to call recent license applicants. He said he had not yet been able to check the other three affected bureaus in Cincinnati.

        “I am relatively sure no more than 100 got out from each of the agencies,” Mr. Gray said.

        The state's inaction raised concerns from a ranking Oxford police officer who investigated the case involving the Miami University student.

        “People should have been notified of this mistake,” Detective Sgt. John Buchholz said Wednesday.

        “We are concerned the most that an innocent citizen was detained by police. That's not what Oxford Police Department is all about. We don't like this at all.”

        Detective Sgt. Buchholz said the woman, whom he declined to name because she was not charged with a crime, was held at the station on Sept. 28 for more than 90 minutes.

        Because she was a college student and police knew where to find her, they released her from custody while they investigated the case. But they confiscated her license for two days until they sorted it out, Detective Sgt. Buchholz said.

        The woman had received her license in August from a bureau in her hometown of Cleveland, he said, and a deputy registrar there tipped him off to the state's mistake.

       



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