The recent story of a school district employee hired with a rape allegation on his record is enough to make us all cringe. We see the headlines and wonder how someone like this can pass a background check? To answer this question we need to examine the numerous ways “criminal background checks” can be performed.
First, we need to dispel the myth that one can simply enter a name and/or social security number into a database and determine conclusively whether or not someone has a criminal history. No such database system exists. Second, we need to try to understand the definition and the context of a “criminal background check”; misunderstanding the effectiveness of a particular methodology is relatively common and generally not accurately reported by the media.
Criminal records are maintained at the federal, state, and local (county/municipality) levels. There is no single access point to verify an individual’s criminal history. To say the process of gathering accurate criminal record information is convoluted is an understatement. This, along with the myriad federal and state laws regulating background checks, is why using a professional background screening company is an absolute necessity.
Federal Criminal Records
The Federal Bureau of Investigations maintains a database known as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Currently the NCIC database contains approximately 50 million individual names as well as missing and wanted persons, stolen vehicles and identifiable stolen property. There are 5000-6000 new names added to it daily. The FBI relies on each state and various agencies to report information into its records.
But, there are several issues:
1) The NCIC is only accessible to law enforcement officials and, by law, citizens. Private companies may not have access to the database.
2) Records are based on fingerprint cards taken at the time of arrest and often do not get updated to reflect the final disposition of the case.
3) The long chain of events that must occur through multiple states and agencies for a record to appear in the NCIC means many records do not ever make it.
Statewide Criminal Records
At the state level, criminal records are maintained at a state repository. Similar to the FBI database, these records are based on finger print cards taken at the time of arrest. In most cases, it is permissible to access the records at a state repository for routine employment background checks. But like the Federal records, there are several issues to contend with:
1) State repositories rely on law enforcement and local courts to report the arrest and subsequent conviction data.
2) County courts and law enforcement agencies often do not have the resources necessary to keep current with the record reporting to the state repository.
3) There is very little oversight and often no mechanism to compel this reporting.
4) This results in delays in which data gets placed into the repositories’ database.
5) Further exacerbating the problem, final case dispositions are often not updated in the repository leaving the final outcome unresolved.
Local Criminal Records
Local level courts are the source of most criminal records. When performed properly, a local level criminal record will return the most complete, accurate and up to date information about local crimes. On the surface it would seem a simple task to conduct research in these courts however:
1) There are more than 3,000 jurisdictions and over 7,000 significant courts.
2) Not all jurisdictions have the same accessibility to court records and some records are, quite frankly, messy.
3) Some courts require hand search of the hard copy files.
Clearly, each of the above methods has strengths and limitations. What do you do now that you are empowered with all this knowledge? Use it to find an expert to help you design a screening program that balances your organization’s risk with proper background screening methodology.
Proforma Screening has the experience and resources necessary to help your organization mitigate hiring risks and build a better workforce. Take the next step by requesting a price quote or request a consultation with one of our experts.