A recent story from The Arizona Republic about a convicted sex offender who passed a background check and worked as an umpire and official for youth sports reveals how database information that federal and state governments provide on sex offenders for background checks can sometimes be inconsistent and unreliable.

The Arizona Republic reports the 67-year-old Surprise, AZ man – who passed a background check in 2009 and officiated roughly 70 games – was arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing two runaway children. Authorities said the suspect had a criminal history dating back to 1973 with records in New York, Texas, Kentucky, and Alabama that included six sex-crime violations.

According to the report, the Arizona Interscholastic Association – the governing body over high-school sports in the state – employs nearly 3,300 officials a year and is considering rescreening the thousands of officials. Security experts interviewed in the story say background checks are not foolproof and finding information on sex predators can be a costly and sometimes unreliable process since there is no criminal database that covers 100 percent of the country and the information used by background screeners may be flawed or not accessible in some states.

Attorney Lester Rosen, founder and CEO of Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a San Francisco-area background check company accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®), agrees that database searches can be unreliable and the results could give employers a false sense of security.

“Background checks based solely upon databases are subject to both false negatives and false positives and they have substantial issues in terms of timeliness, completeness, and accuracy,” explains Rosen, author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual,’ a comprehensive guide to employment screening. “Because of the nature of databases, the appearance of a person’s name in a background check does not necessarily indicate that person is a criminal any more than the absence of a name shows that person has a clean record.”

Rosen says database searches may contain both “false negatives,” where there is no criminal match with the person being checked but that person is a criminal, and “false positives,” where there is a criminal match with the person in the background check but upon further research it is not the same person. Rosen adds that any positive match – called a “hit” – must be verified by reviewing the actual court records from a courthouse.

While background checks using database searches are useful as secondary tool, Rosen stresses that a professional background check should include county court level searches carried out by a professional background check company or a private investigator.

For more information on databases searches, read the article ‘Criminal Databases & Pre-Employment Screening: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ by Rosen, which investigates all aspects of criminal database searches, at: http://www.esrcheck.com/Articles/Criminal_Databases.php.

  • The Good: Criminal records database searches are valuable because they cover a much larger geographical area than traditional searches, which are run at the county level. Since there are more than 3,200 jurisdictions in America, not all courts can be checked on-site.
  • The Bad: Despite their value, criminal records databases have serious flaws, including incomplete records, name variations, and untimely information. Also keep in mind that database checks by private screening firms are NOT FBI records.
  • The Ugly: Inaccuracy is only one pitfall of national criminal database searches. They also make employers vulnerable to a number of legal landmines, especially when it comes to confirming if the record is current and accurate and even belongs to the applicant.

For more information about background checks, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) at http://www.esrcheck.com.

About Employment Screening Resources (ESR):
Employment Screening Resources (ESR) literally wrote the book on background screening with “The Safe Hiring Manual” by ESR founder and CEO Lester Rosen. ESR streamlines the screening process and reduces administrative overhead though its proprietary technology solutions.  ESR is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®), a distinction held by less than two percent of all screening firms. This important recognition was achieved by successfully passing a third party audit demonstrating compliance with the NAPBS Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program. By choosing an accredited screening firm like ESR, employers know they have selected an agency that meets the highest industry standards. For more information about ESR, visit http://www.ESRcheck.com.