Employers—and people in general—want to minimize the time and expense of doing almost anything. And that includes conducting criminal background checks on job applicants.
This cost motive opens the door for some vendors to promote quick access to all types of online information, leading to presumptively comprehensive background reports. For a relatively modest fee, you can obtain a report on an individual by just supplying their first and last names, and where they live.
The danger to you as an employer is that you may trust the information you get. That could be a big mistake.
The Myth of the Comprehensive National Criminal Database
The first point to understand is that although there are national criminal background databases, you cannot depend on them alone. Every search that uses information from these databases should be verified against authoritative source records at the state and local courts. Your background search professional should be willing and able to supply all this information to you.
Limiting your search to a database exposes you to several sources of error:
- Criminal activity is constant! Convictions happen by the thousands every day, and are entered into local and state court systems. Some of these local databases do coordinate with national sources quite well, but the performance is not consistent.
- There is no single database available to the general public that integrates all this state and local data in real time, or even on a timely basis.
- Records may contain erroneous data. You need to find several sources that corroborate your findings in order to have full confidence in them.
- Records with limited background data might include mistaken identities. Many people share the same name and even live in the same city, so you need to be very cautious in identifying them.
There is one national criminal background database: the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). However, this database is maintained solely for the use of criminal justice agencies. And even IT is limited in the sense that it depends on the accurate input of information from myriad law enforcement agencies nationwide.
You have too much at stake to rely on an incomplete background check process. By all means, search the national databases. But back up that search by looking through the relevant state and local sources for verification.