Rely Only on a National Criminal Database Search – Screening Potential Employees
by Joe KIllinger
Many employers do not know there are different types of criminal records: county, state and national. Many employers believe a national check is the best. However, the truth is, it is not the most accurate. It is wise to conduct criminal searches on a national level and now it’s easier than ever before through instant databases. But make no mistake, you cannot depend on database searches alone. Every search that uses information from these databases should be verified against authoritative source records at the state and local courts. Your background screening company 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.
There are more than 7,000 significant courts in the United States that maintain criminal records. There is no national criminal record database that contains all these records. A “hit” on the ‘Nationwide’ or the ‘Statewide’ Criminal Database Check does not ensure that the applicant is a criminal, and a “clear” result does not ensure that the applicant does not have a criminal record. Vital information, such as file numbers, conviction dates, and personal identifiers, is often missing.
Any database is only as reliable as its last update. What information is included, when it is included, and how it is included affects the quality and completeness of the database. Even official state repositories are dependent on counties for criminal record information, and counties may or may not be diligent, reliable, or timely in providing updates. Therefore, most state repositories do not have complete or up-to-date information.
The availability of criminal records varies greatly from state to state and county to county. A true ‘Statewide’ Criminal Records Check is difficult, if not impossible, to find. There are few states that keep a publicly accessible central database of all criminal records. Therefore, most ‘Statewide’ Criminal Databases are compiled from a range of sources (including county record searches) by private database companies.
Conducting a Nationwide or Statewide Criminal Database search in lieu of a proper background check denies an employer the benefits of thorough employment background screening. Nationwide and statewide criminal databases are notoriously incomplete and out of date. Significant holes exist in geographic and date coverage (some databases are only updated every 6 months). Criminal databases cannot be relied upon for accuracy and completeness and many criminal database searches are not compliant with the Fair Credit Report Act (FCRA) and similar state laws. Therefore, any “hits” must be verified with the local jurisdiction.