Integrated Security Services, Inc., New York

Sometimes, Even State Background Checks Aren’t Thorough Enough

26 May

Data man r2hox/flickr

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio’s criminal background checks have been systematically failing for some time now.

In our society, one of the easiest ways to determine whether or not someone should be hired for a job is a background check. It’s a quick and reliable glimpse into a person’s history that allows you to step back from an application and remark, “Hey, you’re a convicted criminal,” or, “Wow, your record is actually spotless,” as well as any reaction in between.

We perform background checks as a routine, common practice so that no one accidentally grants a convicted sex offender care of foster children, or gives a person with a history of violent offenses unrestricted access to handguns.

It’s commonly understood that these are grave hypothetical errors in judgement can be easily avoided just by pulling up someone’s criminal record.

But imagine a scenario in which the background check system itself is unreliable — a system that could hypothetically lead you to hire a bus driver who has multiple drunk-driving convictions that don’t turn up in the database. If you can picture this, you can picture the current condition of Ohio’s criminal database.

Systemic Flaws

According to a recent investigation by the Columbus Dispatch, the status of the grossly-outdated Ohio criminal record system is bleak. Chronic errors committed by those responsible for updating it and in the digitized system itself have resulted in scores of consistently unreliable records.

Today, it’s not uncommon to look up the record of a convicted felon and find that the system incorrectly shows they have a clean slate.

In response, Ohio state Attorney General Mike DeWine says that the state “inherited a kind of a Model T [information technology] system” decades ago, one that has required constant updates that have proven inadequate. According to the report, more than 10,000 recent convictions (almost 7% of the total number) are missing from the database.

And while the system itself is undoubtedly faulty, there are often significant delays in uploading the records themselves — often as long as six months — as a result of human error at the local and county levels.

As it turns out, these problems aren’t just limited to Ohio: the New York Times previously reported that similar issues plague the national FBI conviction records. And while these errors represent only a small fraction of cases, the percentage is high enough that most investigators consider questioning the validity of a background check a matter of good practice.

One Tool in the Box

However, it must be said that not every criminal database is flawed — we can assume that most are actually entirely accurate. Indeed, the point here is not to breed massive mistrust regarding background checks.

It’s to say that, when conducting thorough research into someone’s history, a high-quality background check should have several facets to it, so even if one data point is flawed, you can still capture a reasonably comprehensive picture of the person you’re hiring.

There are many things in a person’s history that indicate whether he or she is right for a job, and a criminal record is just one of them. You might also look into whether that person has been involved in legal proceedings, has had a tax lien, or if they’ve filed for bankruptcy, while also evaluating their job history and accomplishments in various fields.

Complete Coverage

While there’s no excuse for Ohio’s flawed and untrustworthy criminal records system – and no reason why it shouldn’t be updated ASAP – there are other ways to ensure a hiree will make for a good, clean fit. One popular strategy is to turn to a private investigation firm, such as Integrated Security Services, to do the groundwork for you.

It’s almost always the case that we’ll have access to multiple, otherwise inaccessible records systems, and employ a diverse set of tools to paint you a complete picture of a candidate.

Whether your background check is flawed or not, it’s always prudent to take multiple courses of action to arrive at the most informed conclusion. When the issue at hand is the potential hiring of an ex-felon or someone with a history of workplace violence, you can never be too cautious when making your final decision.