Audit Finds Arizona Criminal Record Database Flaws May Put Public at Risk

Criminal Background Check

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

“A Performance Audit of the Arizona Department of Public Safety Central Repository of Criminal History Records” found the Department and criminal justice agencies share statutory responsibility for ensuring the repository includes accurate criminal history records, but incomplete records may potentially put public safety at risk.

“As of July 9, 2021, the Department reported it had approximately 58,500 bulk submitted offense and disposition records, some of which date back more than 30 years, that needed to be researched, corrected, and/or entered into the central repository,” the report from the Arizona Auditor General Lindsey A. Perry stated.

The purpose of the audit was to determine if the Department complied with its statutory responsibility to maintain a complete collection of criminal history offense and disposition records in the Arizona central repository and that the records maintained in the central repository were consistent with statutory requirements. Key highlights were:

  • The Department and other criminal justice agencies share statutory responsibility for ensuring the central repository includes complete criminal history records, but the central repository is missing some fingerprint-based offense and disposition records and may be missing more records, which may potentially put public safety at risk.
  • Specifically, 17 of 103, or approximately 17 percent, of felony offense records we reviewed from 4 law enforcement agencies in Arizona could not be found in the central repository. Four of the 17 felony offenses were for aggravated assault, including 1 aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and 2 aggravated assaults on a peace officer.
  • Additionally, our review of a stratified random sample of 30 felony offense records in the central repository found that 12 offenses, or approximately 40 percent, had been adjudicated through the criminal justice process, but the disposition was missing from the central repository.
  • The Department could unknowingly issue and has not suspended some fingerprint clearance cards because statutes do not require at least 28 misdemeanor offenses that would preclude an individual from obtaining a fingerprint clearance card to be reported to and included in the central repository.
  • Despite not being expressly authorized by statute, the Department maintains thousands of misdemeanor offenses in the central repository and reported doing so for fingerprint clearance card, criminal justice, and employment purposes. However, inconsistently including these offenses may inequitably impact licensing and employment decisions.

The audit – which was released in September 2021 – recommended that the Department should maintain a complete criminal history records repository that includes all statutorily required offense records and their associated dispositions by continuing to research, correct, and/or enter offense records it has received.

The audit also recommended that the Department develop and implement a formal process for regularly requesting missing offense records, periodically sending a list of offense records missing dispositions, and requesting criminal justice agencies report any dispositions they have to the central repository.

In addition, the audit recommended that the Arizona legislature consider whether all fingerprint clearance card precluding offenses and any additional misdemeanor offenses should be reported to and included in the central repository. A copy of the report is available at https://www.azauditor.gov/sites/default/files/21-110_Report.pdf.

“Many statewide systems are only clearing houses for those counties that choose to deposit records and are not actually the most accurate source of data,” Attorney Lester Rosen, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Employment Screening Resources® (ESR), wrote in his book The Safe Hiring Manual.

“There are no guarantees that all counties are up to date or even participating. For the reasons discussed above, these sources must be approached with caution and are typically not a primary source of information for employers,” wrote Rosen, who received a lifetime achievement award for his work in background screening.

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – a global background check provider ranked the #1 screening firm by HRO Today in 2020 – offers employers criminal record searches that provide them with primary source verified information that can legally be used in hiring decisions. To learn more about ESR, visit www.esrcheck.com.

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this website is for educational purposes only.

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