Tag Archives: Criminal Databases

FBI Letter Responds To NY Times Editorial on Flawed Criminal Background Checks

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR News Staff Writer

The New York Times recently printed a letter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) responding to an earlier Times editorial — Check It Again — that discussed the accuracy of data the FBI relies on when performing criminal background checks. The text of the letter, titled Reliability of F.B.I. Data, is as follows:

To the Editor:

The F.B.I. takes its role as a central repository for criminal justice information very seriously, but must rely on the voluntary submissions of criminal history records supplied by local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies, and the courts, for the overwhelming majority of its information.

While the F.B.I. appreciates this support, vital data often fails to get to the bureau in a timely way because of the time lag in criminal prosecutions. To help find ways to capture this information more efficiently, the F.B.I. formed an interagency task force to identify problem areas in states disposition reporting and methods to improve the system. The F.B.I. also oversees another task force to improve the flow of criminal history information from the courts to the state repositories and then to the F.B.I.

The F.B.I. is also working on internal improvements, including the Next Generation Identification program, an upgrade to the existing fingerprint identification system, which will improve disposition reporting, while a related initiative will enable efficient electronic updates.

Through advances in technology and the continued cooperation of our partners, the F.B.I. hopes to clear the way for additional improvements in the completeness of the background check information we provide.

Daniel D. Roberts
Assistant Director, Criminal Justice
Information Services Division, F.B.I.
Washington, June 2, 2010

The letter confirms that the FBI only gets what criminal background check information local jurisdictions and states will give it, and admits that “vital data often fails to get to the bureau in a timely way” meaning the criminal database is not completely accurate.

The accuracy of the FBI database used for criminal background checks has become a hot topic for job applicants, employers, and even politicians. Recently, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security introduced a bill to strengthen the accuracy of FBI criminal background checks in response to a June 2006 report from the attorney general that showed nearly 50 percent of criminal records maintained in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database failed to note court decisions to dismiss arrests.

Since employers rely on the database to conduct background checks on potential hires, the 2010 Fairness and Accuracy in Employment Background Checks Act (H.R. 5300) would strengthen the accuracy of the FBI’s criminal database by requiring the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to verify that crime data used for background checks is up to date, find out the outcome of arrests whenever an employer requests a background check, and update that record in the NCIC database.

For more information about background checks, and how some FBI background checks may use inaccurate or incomplete information, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.esrcheck.com.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/08/opinion/l08fbi.html 

http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20100518_2029.php 

http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h5300/text

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/opinion/27thu3.html

http://www.justice.gov/olp/ag_bgchecks_report.pdf

NY Times Editorial Focuses On Flawed FBI Background Checks

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

A recent New York Times editorial – Check It Again – focused on a new bill in the House of Representatives that would require the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to verify and correct criminal data before issuing background checks for employment purposes, thus fixing the problem of many Americans missing a chance to get hired (as if it wasn’t hard enough to find a job these days) because the FBI background checks employers use to screen job applicants contain incomplete or inaccurate information.

A common problem with FBI background checks, according to the NY Times editorial, is that the criminal records included in those FBI background checks fail to include the final disposition of a case, meaning that the records may only show that a job applicant was arrested but not that the charges were dismissed or that there was no conviction.

The editorial also cites a 2009 report from the National Employment Law Project that revealed the government had mistakenly denied credentials to tens of thousands of workers – partly because of flawed background reports – after Congress required new FBI background checks for about 1.5 million people working at the nation’s ports. The editorial concludes that no one – including the nearly 50 million Americans with arrest or conviction records – should be denied a job because the government’s information contained in an FBI employment background check is wrong.

An earlier story on ESR News explained the bill – called the Fairness and Accuracy in Employment Background Checks Act of 2010 (H.R.5300) – would provide safeguards with respect to FBI criminal background checks prepared for employment purposes and require the Attorney General to find out the outcome of arrests from court offices when an employer requests a background check. The attorney general would update the record in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, a computerized index of criminal information available to Federal, state, and local law enforcement 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

In addition, to help avoid inaccurate or incomplete employment background checks, the legislation would give job applicants the opportunity to challenge the accuracy and completeness of background check reports done through the FBI records database.

A 2005 report – “The National Crime Information Center: A Review and Evaluation” – sponsored by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) reviewed the FBI’s NCIC to evaluate its effectiveness in maintaining accurate and complete criminal history records. Among the findings of the NAPBS report were:

  • Many states did not report information concerning dispositions, declinations to prosecute, failure to charge after fingerprinting, and expungements.
  • Inconsistency in the reporting requirements and criminal codes in various states impacted the completeness and accuracy of the records.
  • There were significant time lapses between when information was transmitted to the state repository and actual entry into the criminal history records.  

For more information on FBI background checks and the FBI’s NCIC criminal records database – and the reasons why the information contained in that database is sometimes not always entirely accurate – visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.esrcheck.com.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/opinion/27thu3.html

http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h5300/text

http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/doj/fbi/is/ncic.htm  

http://www.napbs.com/files/members/Resources/NCIC_Report.pdf

Bill Would Strengthen Accuracy of Employment Background Checks Using FBI Criminal Database

By Les Rosen, President of ESR & Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

Employers that rely on criminal records databases to conduct background checks on potential employees also rely on the accuracy of the information in those databases. Now a federal bill introduced in the House would help to strengthen the accuracy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) criminal records database by requiring the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to verify that crime data contained in the FBI’s database is up to date.

As reported on NextGov.com, the Fairness and Accuracy in Employment Background Checks Act of 2010 (H.R.5300) – which would provide safeguards with respect to the FBI criminal background checks prepared for employment purposes – would require the attorney general to find out from court offices, even those in state and local jurisdictions, the outcome of arrests when an employer requests a background check.

In addition, the attorney general would update that record in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, and would have 10 days to update the record after discovering an arrest was dismissed in court before responding to the employer’s request.

According to NextGov.com, employers consult the FBI’s NCIC database – which is a computerized index of criminal justice information available to Federal, state, and local law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – to conduct background checks on individuals applying for jobs in law enforcement and security, and for jobs working with vulnerable people such as children and the elderly.

The bill H.R.5300 was introduced in response to “The Attorney General’s Report on Criminal History Background Checks” in 2006 that showed nearly 50 percent of criminal records maintained in the NCIC database failed to note court decisions to dismiss arrests, NextGov.com reported. To help avoid inaccurate or incomplete employment background checks, the legislation would give job applicants the opportunity to challenge the accuracy and completeness of background check reports done through the FBI records database. If criminal records are challenged, the attorney general would have 30 days to investigate, make changes, and report those changes to the applicant and the employer.

Some background check experts agree the Fairness and Accuracy in Employment Background Checks Act of 2010 may help fill the gaps in the FBI’s criminal database.

“Although the NCIC data is the closet thing that exists to a national criminal database, it is not nearly as complete as portrayed in the movies,” stated Les Rosen, President of Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a nationwide employment screening company. “Many records of crime do not make it into the system because of the chain of events that must happen in multiple jurisdictions in order for a crime to appear in NCIC.” 

According to Rosen, author of The Safe Hiring Manual: How To Keep Criminals, Terrorists, and Imposters Out of Your Workplace, employers cannot even access the NCIC unless they are specifically authorized to by law. “There is simply no national computer database of all criminal records available to private employers,” says Rosen.

A 2005 report – “The National Crime Information Center: A Review and Evaluation” – sponsored by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), of which Rosen is a past co-chair, reviewed the NCIC to evaluate its effectiveness in maintaining accurate and complete criminal history records. Among the findings of the NAPBS report were:

  • Many states did not report information concerning dispositions, declinations to prosecute, failure to charge after fingerprinting, and expungements.
  • Inconsistency in the reporting requirements and criminal codes in various states impacted the completeness and accuracy of the records.
  • There were significant time lapses between when information was transmitted to the state repository and actual entry into the criminal history records.
  • The format and terminology used by the various states created problems of interpretation for individuals in other states using the information.

For more information on the FBI’s NCIC criminal records database – and the reasons why the information contained in that database is sometimes not always entirely accurate – visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.esrcheck.com.

Sources:

http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20100518_2029.php?oref=topnews

http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h5300/text

http://www.justice.gov/olp/ag_bgchecks_report.pdf

http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/doj/fbi/is/ncic.htm

http://www.napbs.com/files/members/Resources/NCIC_Report.pdf

Alleged Crime by Census Worker Casts Spotlight on Government Background Checks

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

In the wake of a census worker being accused of assaulting a young disabled woman in southern Indiana, questions have arisen about security issues surrounding the government background checks of the thousands of workers for the once-in-a-decade U.S. Census.

According to a report on the WRTV Indianapolis News website, the mother of a disabled 21-year-old woman in Pekin, IN told police that her daughter was raped and beaten by a 39-year-old male census worker who had come to the family’s home last week asking for census information and then returned early Saturday morning and assaulted her daughter.

The County Sheriff was quoted in the story as saying the accused census worker – who Census officials said started working for the agency two weeks ago – gave the victim a black eye and tried to strangle her, and that there are marks around her neck. Police also said the man left his wallet, which had his driver’s license, on the victim’s bedroom floor.

According to officials, the U.S. Census Bureau performs stringent FBI background checks and “turns away anyone who fails check out OK.” Census workers should never ask to come inside a home, and should show an official identification badge with a Department of Commerce watermark and carry a black census bag with titling and a seal. Anyone suspecting a census worker of inappropriate behavior should call the Bureau.

An employee at the Chicago Regional Census Center said the background screening process for prospective census workers is more rigorous than ever, WRTV reported. An applicant’s name, birth date, and Social Security Number go through an FBI criminal records check and other background checks. This year, fingerprints of prospective census workers are submitted to the FBI and checked against the FBI’s fingerprint database.

According to the ‘Background Check FAQ’ page of the http://www.census.gov/ website, the Census Bureau takes public trust seriously and works to ensure that temporary workers undergo the most thorough and accurate background checks possible. The Census Hiring and Employment Check (CHEC) Branch of the Administrative and Management Systems Division (AMSD) performs background checks for all applicants and employees.

Applicants for temporary Census jobs go through a name check against the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Name Index. The FBI database is searched to see if it contains a criminal history record file that matches an applicant’s name, date of birth, and social security number. This criminal history record file contains records of individuals that have been arrested and fingerprinted. All employees are fingerprinted on their first day of training and the fingerprint card(s) are submitted to FBI for processing.

For more information on FBI database criminal background checks, and how these federal crime databases can sometimes have inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading information, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.esrcheck.com.

Sources:

http://www.theindychannel.com/news/23526493/detail.html

http://www.census.gov/hrd/www/jobs/background.html

Jury Finds Housing Authority Negligent in Murder of Elderly Woman after Tenant Background Check Misses Criminal Past of Neighbor

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

In a story that shows the importance of using overlapping tools to do criminal background checks, a jury recently ruled that negligence by the Housing Authority in a North Carolina city led to an elderly woman’s death at the hands of her crack cocaine addicted neighbor in 2007.

A story on CharlotteObserver.com revealed that attorneys sued the agency on behalf of the 63-year-old woman’s estate after she was strangled in her apartment at a public housing complex for the elderly and disabled. Her 46-year-old neighbor – who reportedly had a history of violence, drugs, and mental illness – was later convicted of her killing.

Jurors awarded victim’s sons $132,000 over their claim of inadequate tenant screening after a background on the convicted killer missed several convictions for violent behavior in the man’s past. Jurors said they could not agree on a monetary amount, and the final figure was a compromise that was far less than the $10.4 million in damages the sons were asking for.

At issue in the trial was whether the Housing Authority properly screened the woman’s killer with a background check before it let him live in the apartment complex. The CharlotteObserver.com reported that the attorney for the woman’s estate argued that the Housing Authority violated its own procedures by doing only a North Carolina background check – not nationwide background check – on the woman’s eventual killer. The N.C. check missed violent crime and drug convictions in Maryland that would have prevented the man from living at the apartment complex.

The jury agreed, and CharlotteObserver.com quoted the foreman as saying that the just felt like the elderly woman’s murder could have been prevented with better background checks. The attorney also said he hoped the judgment would make the Housing Authority do more comprehensive background checks on tenants.

A tragic story such as this reminds employers – and landlords – of the importance of national multi-jurisdictional searches that can uncover criminal records that job applicants – or tenants – have in states other than the one in which they currently live and work.

Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a national pre-employment screening provider, offers a National Multi-Jurisdictional Criminal Database Search, which are comprehensive multi-jurisdictional and statewide searches that cover a much larger geographical area than traditional county-level searches. Such a search can provide potential leads as to other places to search.

However, ESR believes that since these databases have both pros and cons, it is critical to understand that:

  • Multi-jurisdictional database are NOT official FBI database searches.  FBI records are only available to certain employers or industries where Congress or a state has granted access.
  • Multi-jurisdictional and statewide databases searches are a research tool only and are not a substitute for a hands-on search at the county level under any circumstances.
  • Not all states have databases that are available to employers.  In some instances, the databases that are available have limited information.  Therefore the value of these searches in these states may be very limited.   
  • Some states that make official state police records or records directly form the court available.  However, the information may not be reportable under state or federal la for various reasons. 
  • Databases in each state are compiled from a number of sources and the information may not be accurate or complete.  Because of the nature of databases, the appearance of a person’s name on a database is not an indication the person is criminal any more than the absence of a name shows he/she is not a criminal. Any positive match MUST be verified by reviewing the actual court records.  Any lack of a match is not the same as a person being “cleared.”

More information on the pros and cons of multi-jurisdictional and statewide databases – including what information this search is based on, how criminal record “hits” should be reconfirmed to ensure accuracy, and how Sex Offender databases are derived from the state-maintained registry, is available on ESRCheck.com at:

Source: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/02/10/1236243/jury-finds-housing-authority-negligent.html

National Criminal Databases Always Work On TV Crime Dramas, Not Always In Real Life

By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

According to popular TV crime dramas, today’s investigators, along with old fashioned gut instincts,  use all technology at their disposal when it comes to tracking down and arresting the bad guys. One such technological advantage is a centrally located national computer database containing all past criminal records of anyone who ever killed, stole, drove drunk, or even jaywalked. Best of all, these super crime databases are never, ever wrong.

However, the reality is quite different say experts in employment screening, and also recent headlines. The potential for errors in crime databases was evident in the case of a Maryland woman who lost her job after a background check performed through the FBI National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) indicated that she was unsuitable to work on the contract her company had won to handle mail for the Social Security Administration (SSA).

According to the Baltimore Sun, when the SSA performed a routine background check on the woman in July 2009 for low-level security clearance, the results showed she was “unsuitable” to work on the contract. The subsequent SSA letter to her employer did not specify what the background check had uncovered. The employer fired the woman rather than keep her off the contract.

The woman maintained that she had no criminal history, a claim backed by the Baltimore Sun, which only uncovered a civil case possibly involving a suit against her late father’s estate, and also by the SSA itself, which sent a letter to her employer saying as much. The SSA letter said the woman had passed a pre-screening check and could work on the SSA contract pending a final determination. Instead of reinstating her, the woman’s former company told her to re-apply for her job, then that the department was reorganizing, and later that it had no intention of restoring her old position.

The Baltimore Sun reported that the woman has since learned that an unspecified error in the FBI NCIC database,  a repository for criminal records and information on fugitives, stolen property and missing persons fed to the database from local, state. and federal law-enforcement agencies around the country, was the cause for the SSA’s initial determination that she was unsuitabol.

“lthough the NCIC data is the closet thing that exists to a national criminal database, it is not nearly as complete as portrayed in the movies,” ated Les Rosen, Founder and President of Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a nationwide pre-employment screening company. “Many records of crime do not make it into the system because of the chain of events that must happen in multiple jurisdictions in order for a crime to appear in NCIC.”

According to Rosen, author of The Safe Hiring Manual: How To Keep Criminals, Terrorists, and Imposters Out of Your Workplace, employers cannot even access the NCIC unless they are specifically authorized to by law.  There are over 10,000 state and federal courthouses in the United States spread out over some 3,300 jurisdictions, each with its own records file.

“Contrary to popular belief, there is actually no central location for all U.S. criminal records,” says Rosen. “There is simply no national computer database of all criminal records available to private employers.”

A 2005 report sponsored by  the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), of which Rosen is a past co-chair, reviewed the National Crime Information Center and the Interstate Identification System in order to evaluate its effectiveness in maintaining accurate and complete criminal history records.

Some conclusions from the NAPBS sponsored study were:

  • Many states do not report information concerning dispositions, declinations to prosecute, failure to charge after fingerprints have been submitted, and expungements.
  • Inconsistency in the various state’s reporting requirements and criminal codes impacts the completeness and accuracy of the records.
  • The timeliness of transmission by the local jurisdictions to the state criminal history repositories remains problematic.
  • There are still significant time lags between the time information is transmitted to the state repository and entry into the criminal history records.
  • The process used to linking data to the proper individual and case is still ineffective.
  • Serious problems remain in the process to link dispositional information to the proper case and charge.
  • The format and terminology used by the various states creates problems of interpretation for individuals in other states who are using the information.
  • Even when a criminal record is searched based fingerprints instead of name matches, many of the same issues still exist.

 As the case of the Maryland woman fired from her job  due to an “unspecified error” in the NCIC shows, the FBI database, while still the gold standard for those limited employers authorized by state or federal law to access it, is still more of an arrest databases that is not as accurate or complete as people think.

Sources:

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/10/ncic#ixzz0kRkIWEnd

http://www.justice.gov/olp/pdf/ncicreportaugust32005.pdf (Contains letter to the Department of Justice by Employment Screening Resources  on FBI records as well as report sponosred by NAPBS)

http://www.justice.gov/olp/ag_bgchecks_report.pdf (DOJ report on FBI criminal records database and criminal background checks)

2010 trend on criminal databases

By Les Rosen, Employment Screening Resources

2010 Trends in Screening Trend Four: The battle over databases will continue – the latest wrinkle is the proliferation of cheap do-it-yourself websites and even iPhone apps

An ongoing area of controversy in the screening industry is the use of commercially assembled national multi jurisdictional databases. These databases are complied from numerous sources that will sell or make data available. By no means are these databases complete and accurate, nor up-to-date.  Some results do not provide any additional identifiers beyond the first and last name.  As a result, a great many criminals would come up as “clear.” This is called a “false negative.”  These databases are practically useless in states like New York and California, two large areas.  In Texas, the criminal data is also very hit and miss.

Conversely, databases can result in a person being labeled a criminal when they are not.  That is a “false positive. 

In the hands of a professional background screening firm, these databases have significant value as an additional but secondary tool that can lead to further places to search.  However, the downside is that some employers want the database information without doing court searches, meaning that some people will be falsely labeled as criminal when they are not and some people will be falsely cleared as having no criminal record when they do.

Under the FCRA, a screening firm has the option of reporting a database search without courthouse confirmation as long as the consumer gets a notice at the same time about the search. Over 120 background firms, however, and the State of California (by statute), have disavowed this approach.  See http://www.concernedcras.com/ 

Another fallout from these databases are consumer scams, where fly-by-night quick-buck artists have set up background checking sites that merely rehash old data at exorbitant prices.  And even worse, many of these sites do not make it crystal clear to employers that they must comply with the FCRA, or that the database results can be incomplete or inaccurate.

The latest twist is that these data searches are now offered over “smart phones. Given the problems with such data, it’s hard to see how someone on a date can really get much value from these database searches.  On the other hand, such applications have been labeled a must have for stalkers and sexual predators becsue these apps apparently include personal data such as address. 

One of the challenges facing the screening industry is to educate employers that these do-it-yourself sites are dangerous and can embroil an employer in all sorts of problems.  The problems can include lawsuits form applicants whose rights were violated, to victims whose injuries could have been prevented by a real background check. 

(Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a leading national online employment screening background firm, is releasing the ESR Third Annual Top Ten Trends in the Pre-Employment Background Screening Industry for 2010. This is the FOURTH of the ten trends ESR will be tracking in 2010.)

Employment Screening Background Checks Annual Criminal Statistics

Various organizations publish their annual criminal “hit rates,” showing how many applicants subject to background screening had criminal records or other discrepancies. On one hand, these figures are extremely valuable because they confirm an already compelling case that background checks are critical for any employer that wants to exercise due diligence and protect its workforce and the public. In fact, as Employment Screening Resources has been advising employers for sometime, without a system of pre-employment screening, it is a virtual statistical certainty that an employer will hire someone with a serious issue that has the potential to create a legal and financial nightmare or cause workplace violence.

On the other hand, as with all statistics, these yearly reports need to be taken with a grain of salt. First, not all criminal records come as a surprise to employers. Given the number of Americans with some sort of criminal records, many employers are still willing to hire someone for an appropriate position, providing the applicant was not dishonest in the application. In fact, certain industries by nature of their workforce are more likely to draw upon a pool of potential applicants that may tend to have higher levels of past criminal conduct. Examples might be construction or firms that provide employment for entry level workers.

A statistic that would be very interesting but much harder to obtain is how many criminal records were discovered where the applicant was dishonest about past conduct. Of course, that gets complicated by the fact that an applicant may have been genuinely confused about what is or is not reportable on an application.

A related issue is that not all criminal records have the same impact. A criminal record for underage drinking is not in the same league as a conviction for armed robbery.

In reviewing these types of statistics, employers also need to keep in mind that not all of the criminal records located are job related. Employers should NOT automatically deny employment to an applicant with a criminal record unless there is a business justification that takes into account the nature and gravity of the crime, the nature of the job and the age of the crime. As noted in a recent blog on this site, the EEOC takes the position that the overuse of criminal records without a business justification can create a disparate impact, and therefore can be discriminatory. See: http://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/1057/new-eeoc-lawsuit-for-discrimination-based-on-credit-report-and-criminal-records

Finally, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the statistics without knowing the search methodology. Depending on how the searches were conducted, it is entirely possible in fact that such annual statistics may even understate the number of criminal records applicants had. The most accurate criminal record searches are done by accessing information directly from the county courthouse level, either by physically going the court, or by use of the court computer system that is the functional equivalent of going to the courthouse. That is the method used by Employment Screening Resources. Databases on the other hand, although much wider in scope, are not nearly as accurate, do not have all courts or jurisdiction, may not be updated, or may not contain sufficient identifiers.  To the extent any searching was done by the use of databases, the numbers could potentially be understated.

The bottom line: These statistics are an excellent reminder that employers need to be careful in hiring. However, as with most statistics, there is more to the story. Contact Employment Screening Resources for additional information.

The Basics of Criminal Records Searches

Searching for criminal records is much more complicated than it appears on the surface.  Contrary to popular belief, there is no central database available to most private employers to instantly find a person’s criminal record at one touch.  The FBI database is only available to employers that are legally authorized to submit fingerprints, the readouts can be complex and there is even the possibility of errors in those records.  With some 3200 counties in the US, screening firms have developed tools and techniques to identify potentially relevant counties to search, and nearly any county in America can be researched on site within 24-36 hours. The best practices for employers are to identify counties associated with the applicant and to search those counties by going to the courthouse. The way relevant counties are identified is first by using a tool called a social security trace that uses millions of records which show what addresses a social security number is related to. In addition, some employers also search counties where a person has worked or gone to school.  Although such searches are very accurate, as with anything depending on human beings, there is still some small margin of error possible. 

Even assuming a record is found, a professional screening firm must determine if there are sufficient identifiers to associate the record to the applicant, and even if the criminal record belongs to the applicant, numerous states have laws that restrict what can be reported. Many states do not allow the use of arrest records, and even if a state allows it, there may be EEOC considerations. Even if a screening firm can report a conviction, the employer needs to consider whether the use of the record is discriminatory.  An employer should not automatically reject an applicant with a criminal record, unless there is a business justification, taking into account such things as the nature and gravity of the act, the nature of the job and the age of the crime. 

Employers should be careful in the use of commercial databases that are advertised to search millions of records with instant results.  Those 30 second searches are NOT a substitute for a real criminal check at a courthouse and probably would not demonstrate due diligence if used all by themselves. These databases are assembled from a hodgepodge of various sources that are willing to make their data public or to sell data, such as incarceration systems, state repositories or individual counties.  These databases do not cover all states and may not be up-to-date, accurate or complete.  Certain states do not provide date of birth, which is another reason a criminal record may not come up in a database. This can all lead to both false negative and false positive results from databases. A false positive means a person is branded a criminal who is not, and a false negative means a person with a criminal record is falsely ‘cleared.’ 

The commercially available instant criminal reports are best used as a research tool only by a professional screening firm to locate other places to search.  Since they cover such a wide area, they can be very valuable in locating records that a county by county search can miss.  However, these instant databases are also a potential source of litigation against employers and screening firms, with applicants filing lawsuits for being unfairly tarnished as criminal, or victims claiming that the employer did not exercise due diligence.  Even if there is a database ‘hit,’ under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, the background screening firm must either reconfirm the details at the actual courthouse to ensure accuracy, or send a contemporaneous notice to the applicant at the same time, so they know that they are the subject of negative public records.  California is one state where any database ‘hit’ must be re-confirmed at the courthouse and ESR believes it is a best practice to reconfirm all database hits at he courthouse to guard against unfairly labeling someone as a criminal where their case has been dismissed, or they are the victim of identity theft or just happen to have the same last name as a perosn with a criminal record. 

Some states offer access to the state police or central state court databases.  Again, it takes a background screening expert to understand the value of such information on a state by state basis.  There is also a difference between state court searches and federal courts. 

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg.  For more details, see: http://www.esrcheck.com/services/services_detail.php

Beware of Rip-off web sites

A web site came to our attention that makes outright falsehoods to the public when it comes to criminal records.  It says:

A COMPLETE AND CONCISE CRIMINAL RECORD REPORT 

Our 50 State Criminal History Search Is Generated Using Federal, State And County Databases Containing Over 1.2 Billion Criminal Records Which Are 100% Accurate, Reliable And Updated Daily For A Complete Comprehensive Report Containing All Arrests And Convictions Including Felony, Misdemeanor And Sexual Offenders/Predators 

It is unclear whether this site is just ignorant of the facts or is an intentional rip-off but the results are the same-it is a fraud and a scam.  The suggestion that there is a” complete comprehensive report” of all arrests and convictions is a pure nonsense. 

For the real story, see an article on the ESR website called, http://www.esrcheck.com/articles/Criminal_Databases.php 

 

There are commercially assembled criminal databases that can be helpful to employers when used by a screening firm since it may lead to further courts to search.  However, any suggestion that these databases all by themselves are real background checks is just a ploy to rip-off the unwary. These databases are far from complete, and accurate.  They can falsely label someone a criminal who is not, and can falsely clear someone who in fact has a serious criminal record.   They may contain records that are not legally useable or have been set aside by a court.  Not all jurisdictions are included, and even included jurisdictions do not always update records. 

For more on why these database claims should be ignored, see:  http://www.concernedcras.com/Responsible_Criminal_Databases.htm