Nov 18, 2015 4:21 PM

Current Portsmouth Uber driver's criminal history raises concerns about background checks

PORTSMOUTH - An Uber driver working in the city was convicted in June for assaulting a 15-year-old girl.

Uber has recently requested that misdemeanors be excluded from criminal background checks for potential drivers. These misdemeanors could include possession of an unlicensed concealed weapon, domestic abuse crimes, assault, criminal threatening, sexual assault, stalking, joy riding, theft, conduct after an accident, resisting arrest, indecent exposure and child endangerment.

Victor Ortega Garcia, 25 - a current Uber driver - was stopped by Portsmouth Lt. Chris Cummings, and was later recognized for his local criminal history, according to Seacoast Online.

Garcia had not yet registered with the city as an Uber driver, which is required.

Garcia was found guilty in June for simple assault, after fondling a teenage girl at the Burger King restaurant they were both working at.

Cummings and other Portsmouth police recognized Garcia's background, but because all of his previous charges were misdemeanors, he had passed the Uber background check.

Cummings described Uber's background checks, conducted through a third party, as "not substantial," according to Seacoast Online. He said the "fine print" on criminal-background forms used by Uber note the accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed and the information should be used in conjunction with other background checks.

A vote to recommend the City Council not eliminate misdemeanors from background checks for drivers-for-hire was passed by the Transportation Services Committee Wednesday by a vote of 4-0, with Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine abstaining.

Splaine said he abstained because he has not made up his mind and wants to hear from the public before he does.

He has asked city attorney Robert Sullivan to draft an amended Transportation Services Ordinance that reflects Uber's requests.

The amended ordinance will go to the City Council for it's first reading on December 7.

"I'm not a cheerleader for Uber," Splaine said. "I'm trying to look at this as objectively as possible. I want reasonable regulations and to see Uber able to provide rides under those regulations."

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