Criminal History Databases: How Accurate They Really AREN’T
Criminal databases are far from perfect. They are made to house records of burglaries, sex offenders, and illicit activity. Yet the same problem occurs here as with every other database – they are not 100% accurate.
A professional background checker at Victig compares criminal databases to the “4G coverage maps you see from wireless companies… there are holes all over the country where databases do not have records.”
While the ultimate goal of these databases and other, similar tools, is to have complete coverage, they are not! It is important for employers to take this into account when performing criminal background checks. Because individual criminal background checks do not provide complete coverage, it is important to seek professional assistance especially on criminal checks. (See this post for an explanation of priorities in background checks).
Here are three things you can do to ensure you are securing as much information on criminal records as possible:
- Cross-reference everything
- Continue your search frequently – databases are updated when possible. The records you need may have not been available during your initial search.
- Seek professional assistance from experts like Victig for peace of mind and a well-done job.
Criminal history checks can possibly the most important research you can do regarding a potential employee. It goes without saying that keeping your employees and company safe should be your highest priority. Be careful when relying on databases that claim to be complete – they aren’t.
New Jersey ain’t foolin’ around
As of April 1, the Garden State became the fifth state to officially ban employers from being able to ask potential job applicants and current employees for their user names, screen names, passwords, etc., to gain access to their personal social media sites.
Some employers – both private and public – believe social media sites offer a more truthful representation of an applicant than a resume may provide, or even an in-person interview. And used properly, social media sites can be extremely helpful to employers, screening agencies and even private citizens who, let’s say, may be looking to sell their house.
Some employers argue the practice is needed with current employees, too, to safeguard their business or organization from workers that might be sharing trade secrets or other potentially crippling information online. Opponents of this practice largely argue it’s a violation of privacy, though.
And it appears the majority of states agree with them. While the practice of asking for an employee’s Facebook or Twitter sign-in information does not seem to be widespread, it was considered legal for employers to do, and it’s been enough of a concern that bills banning the practice continue to gain momentum in state houses across the country.
“Employer social media access” bills are currently being debated in 32 states, but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was ahead of the curve, signing his state house’s bill into law in December (it didn’t go into effect, however, until April Fools’ Day) following the likes of Maryland, California, Illinois and Michigan.
Ohio, which was one of 14 states to defeat a similar-sounding bill last year, might be closer to making good on one this year. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a webpage with the status of each of these bills.
One final word to the wise, employers can still legally view any post by their employees that they make public on their preferred social media site.
So remember: think before you tweet.
And that’s no joke.
Tenant Background Checks Decrease Tenant Turnover
Empty properties do not generate revenue, thus when the time comes to find new tenants for a rental property, property owners and managers are understandably anxious to speed through the application process so they can get new people paying rent right away. In their haste, they might be tempted to cut a few corners. If the potential renters seem like decent people during their interviews and are able to put up the required deposit and first month’s rent, it would be an easy thing to let slide something like a tenant background check. According to Problem Rental Solutions, a property management company, “Many people feel that they are able to judge a book by its cover, but this could lead to problems going forward.”
Don’t be one of those property owners that gets suckered into thinking you are able to tell by a quick conversation with someone whether he or she is a suitable renter. There are perfectly amiable people in this world who simply are not good at meeting deadlines or making payments. A tenant background check takes the guesswork out of the equation. Good tenant screenings should include some combination of the following services:
- Credit report check
- Criminal record search
- Eviction search
- Verification of landlord references
Each of these screenings provides a look at a different facet of an applicant’s renter profile. Completion of a thorough background check will add a little time to the application process, but the effort is worth it if it means you are able to discern the good renters from the bad. Tenant background checks also help decrease turnover as unsuitable tenants likely to break contracts or become negligent on paying rent are weeded out at the very beginning. Besides these monetary benefits, you’ll have the added emotional certainty that you’ve done all you can to make sure your tenants are honest, law-abiding citizens.
Accurate criminal background checks increasingly hard to find
Looking for a quick and easy way to run a national criminal background check on a prospective employee? Good luck. Contrary to popular belief, accurate criminal background checks on the national level are nearly impossible to carry out. According to Jackie Walters, a law librarian, there are seven facts that make this type of background check unfeasible.
- There is no one location where local, state, and federal criminal records can all be found. Thus, there is no one search that could comprise all areas where criminal records might be located.
- Fully automated data collection systems are few and far between. True, 49 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico do all have some level of automation in their criminal history systems, but only 25 of those states have a wholly automated network. All the other states require some level of manual entry in order to keep criminal record databases up to date.
- There is no federal standard for collecting, indexing, and using criminal record data. The standards will therefore vary in scope and effectiveness from state to state.
- On-site record searches are expensive. The normal scope of criminal record searches span every place a person has lived in the last seven years. A thorough on-site search of even one place a person has lived takes a prohibitive amount of time and money. If the person has moved in the previous seven years, that expense compounds correspondingly.
- State restrictions on the release of personal data grower stricter annually. With all the fear of identity theft, this is hardly surprising. However, these regulations make it difficult for researchers to see relationships between record types (i.e. tax, property, liens).
- Privacy regulations on state and federal levels restrict how individuals and companies can use information gleaned from background checks. According to Walters, the most common occasions when use of this information is permissible are “pre-screening, consumer-driven transactions, fraud detection, and law enforcement.”
- The FBI maintains and restricts use of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) only to certain organizations and agencies. Thus, though the NCIC is the closest thing there is to a national criminal record database, it is not available for public use.
Don’t be fooled by the pop-up ads you might see when searching for a company capable of completing a “national” criminal background check. Anyone can use a search engine to look up someone’s name. The process of carrying out an accurate background check, however, is delicate and requires extensive knowledge of and experience with multiple criminal records resources.