Things to Consider when Ordering Criminal Database Searches for Background Checks

There are a number of employers who rely almost solely on criminal database searches as background checks for their employment screening services.  This is not a great idea.   There are definite advantages to database searches, as they can provide  employers with a quick review of their candidates.    In general, criminal database searches return instantly, which allows the employer to examine any potential criminal records and decide whether to move forward with additional background checks or whether they deem the candidate ineligible for hire.    In a tough economy, the initial criminal database search can be hold down the additional costs of further pre-employment screening.

If you are a manufacturer and you are hiring people in mass to load trucks or perform menial work, the criminal database provides you with a quick review of your job applicants.   Most laborers don't want to stick around and wait for an extended criminal records to come back.  If you don't hire them quickly, they tend to move off and find a job elsewhere.  So in that respect, the criminal database search gives quick results and enables the employer to make a timely decision.

We have several clients who hire actors and such--this is Hollywood, after all-- to work weekends as waiters and bartenders, valets, and what not, for corporate and private parties and gala events.   It is usually the last minute until the candidates are  actually recruited, interviewed, and, finally, vetted.   There is really no time in these situations to wait the days for the country criminal records to turnaround.   So the recruiter runs the nationwide criminal database search and makes sure the job recruit is neither a sex offender, stalker, or has committed any serious crimes.   Once cleared, the recruiter assigns them to the venue.    So where speed in hiring is of the essence, it is often necessary to go with what you can.

Most criminal database searches will report the sex offender registry as well as felonies and misdemeanors in most states.  Often the OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) reports to the database searches.  This search  is the excluded party database and can indicate whether your employment candidate is on the various watch lists and his prohibited from working or doing business in the United States.

But criminal databases are fraught with difficulties.  As each state reports to a database at its own discretion, results form each state will vary.  Some states are more comprehensive when reporting records than others.  Virginia, for example will report almost everything, including traffic records.  West Virginia reports only the sex offender registry.  Some states are quite comprehensive and  report the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Administration Office of the Courts, while other states report one of the other, usually from the Department of Corrections.  With certain states, different counties will report criminal records as well as the reports from the DOC or AOC.  Some states, like California, only the counties report and not the overriding agency.

Often databases aren't current.  The records are not updated.  Either the state fails to supply the updated criminal records information, or the database vendor is remiss in addressing the currency.   One can find a felony listed in the the database record that has been reduced to a misdemeanor.  Or there are times when the sentence was deferred until the defendant fulfilled certain obligations.  This has not been reported to the databases.   There is also the issue of expungement.  The database still shows criminal records, while research at  the county courthouse level will not produce any records at all.  (Often you may find these discrepancies with State Criminal Non-Database Searches, which are put out by the Highway Patrol, Department of Public Safety, State Police, whatever the agency.   With the economic downturn and states being broke, criminal records updates aren't what they should be.)

Employers are best advised to utilize criminal database searches as a supplementary background check.  To assure greater accuracy, employers should rely on either the state criminal non-database searches, or more importantly the county criminal searches.  County criminal records background checks are always the most accurate, especially when they are pulled by hand from the county courthouse.  Some counties throughout the United States provide Internet and portal access, but sometimes there are discrepancies.  We have found where case numbers do not belong to that particular person of a common name.  We have found where the case numbers are not case numbers at all and don't even follow the proper format.

For practical reason and for legal reasons, the FCRA included, it is highly advisable to conduct county criminal records.   At the very list when hits or criminal records are found on the database  searches and are within the parameters of state and FCRA considerations, the employer is wise to order those county criminal records to verify the veracity and currency of those particular records.   Let's face it, employment screening is a double edged sword.  You probably don't wish to  hire someone who can pose a danger to your business.  But then you don't want to deny a job applicant based on inaccurate criminal records.

As noted earlier, we have clients who in order to watch their bucks conduct the nationwide criminal records database search to ascertain an overview of their employment candidate.  Based on that initial report, they will move forward, searching the counties and states where the applicant resided during the past seven years or so, and verifying any criminal records that appeared in the database search.   And then in many cases, such as federal contractors and various compliance cases, the contracting party or government mandates the nationwide criminal database search as well as other criminal records as part of their compliance program for individuals hired for a contracted project.

So there are any number of reasons to order the criminal records database search.  Just don't view it as a stand alone instrument.   It could cause problems.



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