Church Background Check

Devin Patrick Kelley: Failure of a Single Source Database


I am not a gambler, have never really gambled, and I tend to be a guy who likes checks and balances in my life.  When I leave on vacation, I always have a jump starter in case the vehicle battery dies, a can of tire flat, and an extra set of keys in my wife’s purse in case I lose a set. I like backup plans.

Maybe that goes back to my years as a Violent Crime Detective.  Serving a warrant on a violent felon does not always go the way you plan.  I learned very quickly, after a fellow officer was killed trying to serve a warrant, that the felon plays a huge part in how this goes.

Regardless, I have spent my career working in law enforcement and then the past 20 years as a Violence Prevention Consultant and owner of a background screening firm and visitor management company. There is very little room for error in these careers.  Checks and balances are critical.

For the past 13 years as the CEO of Safe Hiring Solutions, I have provided testimony and guidance to lawmakers on the best practices in background screening.  What I have learned is that policymakers at the state and federal level rely heavily on the advice of law enforcement, and that their first inclination is to mandate a fingerprint background check solution.

I started Safe Hiring Solutions in 2004 because of the failure of a state background check system.  Two sex offenders were hired by a large metropolitan school district in Indiana after having been cleared in the state criminal database.

An audit of the state screening program found that many courts were not sending their conviction data to the state even though state law required them to.

What we learned is that the state was at the mercy of the courts to send the data, and if they did not send the data, then it did not exist in the database.

There were several flaws with the government background screening database:

  1. Single source. The source of the data was not sending the data to the state.  This is the inherent problem with government background screening databases.  No checks & balances.
  2. Contained only convictions for Class A Misdemeanors and above.
  3. Accurate final dispositions.
  4. Relied on state and local law enforcement to submit.

I launched Safe Hiring Solutions to provide a solution to this problem.  The first thing we focused on was the problem with single source criminal databases.  We created a background screening process that contained multiple solutions and checks and balances that included:

  • Solutions to Identify
  • National Criminal Database
  • National Sex Offender Registry
  • Federal District Courts
  • County Criminal Searches

The package we created removed the single source failures.  The case study above with the 2 sex offenders was solved.  A convicted sex offender should appear 3 times in the private background check:

  • National Criminal Database
  • National Sex Offender (if required to register)
  • County Criminal Search

Therefore, if any of the sources fail, there are backups in place.

The argument made by law enforcement is always that without a fingerprint, you cannot conduct a thorough background check.  This simply is not true.

I recently explained to a group of policymakers that I had gone through the process to obtain a gun permit and could have easily exploited the fingerprint process.  How?  Well, let’s assume I had a prohibitive felony or misdemeanor (I don’t).  I registered online and selected a date, time, and location to submit my fingerprints.  I could have easily handed my ID to my brother, who looks much like me, and sent him in to submit a set of fingerprints.

How do I know that would have worked?  Because it was the government issued ID that was my source of ID - not the fingerprints.  The person collecting the fingerprints glanced at my ID for 2 seconds.  She had someone coming in every 15 minutes.  A quick glance at the BMV photo and my brother would have raised no red flags.

The fingerprint process does not pop up and say, “This is Mike McCarty!”  No, the system looks for my fingerprints in a database that are attached to a criminal record.  If there are no fingerprint matches with a criminal record, then the report is clear.

The shooting this past Sunday in Texas has brought into question the NCIC and government system of background checks.  What we now know about Devin Patrick Kelley:

  • He was convicted in the military of a prohibitive crime e.g. domestic violence.
  • The Air Force did not send the conviction to the FBI.

With a single source database, Devin Kelley was allowed to purchase an AR-556 in San Antonio.  Why?

  1. The conviction in the military was not sent to FBI; AND
  2. The unstable Devin Kelley did NOT self-disclose and check a box acknowledging that he had a prohibitive conviction. How many criminals would have the integrity to admit to their criminal history?  Self-disclosure systems are ludicrous.

Over the week, I have heard so many in Congress put forth ideas to quickly solve the issue:

  • Call a voice vote to mandate all data providers send their information to the FBI. Was this not a requirement before?
  • Universal background checks. How do universal background checks solve the problem of Kelley being able to buy a handgun?  NCIC was already clear.  That is the problem, you could check NCIC a hundred times and if the data is not there, it is not there.

I took a call while writing this article from a friend who works in federal law enforcement, and we were discussing the incident.  That’s what law enforcement officers do.  Look at the evidence and determine what we can learn to prevent or minimize the occurrence of another incident like this.

Then he asked me the magic question. “Could your background checks have flagged this?”  In all honesty I explained that there is much we don’t know, and I have not run Devin Kelley’s name through our screening process.

I also told him that we don’t do background checks for gun permits because that requires NCIC; however, a comprehensive private background check using a myriad of available solutions might have flagged him:

  • Something caused TX to refuse the gun permit - something other than NCIC.
  • County criminal searches may have revealed arrests.
  • An ITRV (Income Tax & Employer Verification) would have revealed his military history and prompted a search of his military records. This was the most likely way of flagging Kelley without an honest self-disclosure.
  • A Civil search may have found a protective order if one had been issued which is very common in domestic violence cases.
  • DCS Index Checks. These can be conducted in TX, not in NM, but a check could have revealed issues with child abuse that could have lead to a criminal case.

Understand that all of this is hypothetical and intended to simply show a small snapshot of how private screening firms might approach a background check like this.  It is the layers of checks and balances that provide the comprehensive nature of a thorough search.

At the end of the day, we do not need more gun laws.  We have laws prohibiting Kelley from purchasing guns.

We do not need laws requiring reporting to NCIC (I am sure they exist), but we need a larger debate on whether private screening firms can play an active role in the background screening process.  We need to have healthy engagement in Congress and in the states where private firms are being excluded even though they can provide comprehensive screening solutions that are often times faster and much more cost effective.

Join us for a webinar on best practices in background screening & making your voice heard to policymakers.  Register.  Limited to 100 each session.

10 Things to Know Before Selecting a Background Screening Firm

Selecting a background screening firm can be a daunting task. An online search for background screening firms will reveal countless organizations that provide these services. This certainly muddies the waters enough to make any selection more than a little difficult. Choosing a reputable and proven background screening firm is one of the most critical business decisions you will make.  Yet, the background screening industry itself has not helped to make this an easy decision.

Unfortunately, a lack of transparency still forms the foundation of the screening industry. A close examination of listings will reveal that screening providers are more focused on providing what they want to provide rather than what is needed. What does that mean?  It means speed and low price has become the key competitive advantage points.  And quality often takes a backseat.

Granted, the efficient use of technology can drive down costs AND shorten the turnaround time.  But when screening companies purport to complete background checks not in days, but in minutes, I take pause.

Yes, more and more courts records are becoming automated and readily accessible.  However, many courts records still necessitate a court researcher to do the job correctly. In certain regions of the U.S., clerks are required to do the search. Sometimes, when a county has upper and lower courts that are not connected, each has to be searched separately.

When I read that a screening company is completing a background check in minutes, it leads me to conclude that they are relying on databases and they are neglecting to search lower courts. Nor do I have any idea what they are doing with the counties that require a county clerk to conduct the search.

Background screening is a risk-management solution.  This is not a process that allows you to check a box and claim you have done your due diligence. Poor research can foster complaints of negligent hiring and negligent retention as well as give rise to a proliferation of federal lawsuits related to federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) violations.

We understand that it would be impossible for a lay person to know many of the problems inherent in the screening industry, so we have assembled a list of questions that should be asked of your prospective screening companies.

  1. How do you define a background check? There is no standard definition; however, background screening relies heavily on incomplete public record sources.  A thorough background screening program should consist of multiple checks and balances that include identification, multi-state databases, county criminal searches and federal courts.


  1. Is the background check instant? There is no such thing as a dependable instant database search.  I assume that if a background check is “instant” that it is a database only search. There is no single database, not even the FBI’s NCIC, that is comprehensive enough to stand as a single-source screening program.  Using only a database for employment purposes can open up FCRA violation issues.  It is not even a viable option for volunteer organizations because most databases have a high failure rate even for convicted sex offenders.


  1. Cost of a background check? You cannot do quality background checks for $5, but at the same time, it should not break your piggy bank.  Comprehensive employee background checks should range from $20-$40 for a core national criminal background check.  Volunteer checks can range from $10- $20 for a core criminal check.

Always Read the fine print carefully.  Many screening firms do not clearly articulate all of the hidden costs e.g. aka names, additional counties, expanded past 7 years, etc.


  1. How far back do your background check reports go? This is a question you should always ask as there are several factors that impact this answer. A thorough background check should go back as far as allowed. We believe it is critical for our clients to have all the information they need to make informed decisions. Even so, there are strict guidelines from the EEOC, FCRA as well as state and local laws that must be followed. Consequently, what factors can impact how far back a background check extends?
    1. Convictions vs Non-Convictions. The federal FCRA restricts reporting of non-convictions to no more than 7 years unless the salary for the position is $75,000 or more. Some state laws further restrict convictions or do not allow their reporting.
    2. Individual state. Several states have further restricted the reporting of adverse information.
    3. How far back court records go. Some states maintain criminal records that extend 30 years or more. Other states purge misdemeanor records at 10 years.


  1. How are alias names searched? Alias names bring up thoughts of Jason Bourne and espionage, but really, it is a fancy way of saying any other name your candidate has been known by.  With name-based background checks, it is critical to include any possible alias names to ensure your candidates do not have a criminal history under a former married name, maiden name, birth name, etc. Many screening firms do not include this service in their pricing and then, clients are unpleasantly surprised when hit with additional fees because a candidate has 3 different names.  We do not charge extra for searching other names. We consider it an important part of a thorough search.  It is included in the original quote.


  1. Are employees of the screening firms screened regularly? It seems like a question you would not need to ask, but I would encourage you to inquire about the backgrounds of the people you will be trusting with such sensitive information.  Some screening firms “offshore” parts of their screening process like verifications.  How do you ensure that none of your sensitive data on your employees, vendors, volunteers are not being sent to another country with little to no quality control?  One of our large international volunteer partners told me that several of their affiliates were adamant about using a specific local background screening company.  A quick internet search by our partner revealed that the screening firm operated out of a house where the owner also sold jams and jellies.  This was not the secure environment they had hoped for. We re-screen our employees on an annual basis.


  1. Security of Data. We mentioned in #6 that some screening firms “offshore” data which creates security issues for how the data is transferred. More importantly, what happens to it on the other end where it could be taken, printed, sold, etc.?  Security is a huge concern with all of our data, and you can be confident that our screening firm uses industry ‘best practices’ for securing your data both in transit and at rest.  What does that mean?  We use SSAE 16 and provide quarterly reports.  In addition, we engage with cyber security experts to perform penetration testing to expose any vulnerabilities in our software.


  1. Is compliance a core mission? Complying with federal laws such as FCRA, DPPA and EEOC should be part of the core mission of any screening firm. The majority of compliance is incumbent upon the end user; however, you want a screening partner that will keep you abreast of changes and what is happening in the industry.  We provide a number of educational opportunities each month i.e. live training events, live webinars, articles, and email communications.


  1. Customer service. Yes, everybody claims to have it but very few organizations truly do.  With unemployment at all time lows in most communities, hiring is extremely competitive. When you have a question about a background screening report, you should be able to receive an answer quickly.  We have removed all barriers to customer service communications by appointing a Chief of Client Strategies who oversees a team that works all day, every day, with clients. All of our clients have access to a direct line to the team, email, and chat.  We believe technology is key to the background screening process, but we will not remove human eyes from the equation.


  1. Education.  Things change in the background screening world very quickly.  New movements like “Ban the Box” can start sweeping the nation making it critical that your screening partner provide opportunities for learning and education.  We provide almost daily education opportunities with articles, live training, live webinars and one-on-one events.


In summary, a background screening firm should be more than willing to answer these questions.  If they are not, move one.  There are numerous screening firms that will.  You do not want to place the safety and security of your background screening process in the hands of an organization that is cutting corners or providing low quality products or services.  If a company won’t take the time to answer your questions in order to win your business, how responsive will they be when you are a client?


Please give us a call or an email, we are glad to answer any questions you have or provide an audit of your current screening program:  Toll Free  866-434-0002 or

Why Should Churches Conduct Background Checks?

Over the past few weeks I feel like I have been playing a game of Pete and Repeat.  Remember that fun game from the playground? You know, Pete and Repeat are sitting on a fence and Pete fell off.  Who was left?  Repeat...

Ok.  Pete and Repeat are sitting on a fence and Pete fell off. Who was left?  Repeat...

Now you remember.

Well, that is what I have felt like recently as I have spoken with hundreds of churches and ministries about the importance of background checks for churches.  So I decided to create a little Brainshark explaing why churches should screen their volunteers.

For more information on implementing a background checks for churches program contact us.

Background Checks for Churches:The Use & Misuse of Criminal Databases

Let me say that I have a huge heart for churches and ministries who are trying to navigate the highly unregulated background screening industry.  I speak with or correspond by email with a handful of church administrators each day who are trying to implement quality background checks for churches. The lack of transparency from the background screening industry is frustrating for me and I know it is frustrating for you. Protecting children and looking after widows and orphans is a Biblical command. Yet it is difficult to implement because the screening industry is focused on cheap, instant products that yield tremendous profit but provide very little risk mitigation.

I think you will find this 5 minute training video valuable.  Enjoy!

If you are committed to the safety and security of your children, the church and protecting your ministry then Contact us today.    We have partnered with thousands of churches and ministries and assisted them in developing a quality background checks for churches program.

Did You Graduate From Cheap Background Checks for Churches Yet?

background checks for churchesOk, I had to ask.  I’m really not trying to make you feel guilty if you are still studying for the final exam. And let’s be honest, we have all flunked a test or two and learned from our mistakes and become better for it.

Seriously, I just want you to understand how cheap background checks for churches are wrapped up in pretty packaging.  I hesitate to use the word deceptive but I think it is fair to say misleading.

Misleading is no big deal if we are talking Coke versus Pepsi.  However, the safety and security of your church is an entirely different matter.

We also need to understand that cheap background checks are the norm in the church market.

If an employee at Walmart harms a child while at work, it will be a big news splash.  But it will not impact Walmart’s brand image much.

But churches are not Walmart.  We are talking about the safety and security of children, members, visitors, finances and the ministry.

One harmed child will impact that child for their rest of their life.  It might destroy their faith.  And it could destroy your ministry especially if it could have been prevented.

My advice to prospective clients who are shopping by price is to have them ask themselves how they would feel sitting across from a mother and father and telling them that their child was harmed.  And it could have been prevented but the budget was tight and you were trying to save $8-$10.

Is it worth the savings?  No way. Kids are precious and need to be protected.

The problem is we have all been victims of great marketing.  Prior to starting Safe Hiring Solutions, I assumed a criminal background check would consist of an instant database search.  Wow, did I have a lot to learn and I was a detective.

So we are here to give you more guidance.  Most days I feel like I am swimming upstream with one arm as I tackle a giant volunteer screening marketing program based on profit not safety and security.

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).”  So let’s look at the truth in background screening.

Background checks for churches cannot be done for $10.  Sorry.

Pastor Rick Warren, author of Purpose Driven Life, requires all volunteers at Saddleback Church, including his wife, to submit to a comprehensive fingerprint background check.

A quality criminal background check for churches should include:

  • Social Security Verification
  • National Criminal Database Search
  • National Sex Offender Search
  • County Criminal Search

The screening package must:

  • Not be limited to 7 years.
  • Include alias and other names

Contact Safe Hiring Solutions today to complete your graduation to comprehensive criminal background checks.

Your Turn:

Did you know that quality background checks could not be done for $10?

Instant Background Checks for Churches: W.W.J.D.?

background checks for churchesHave you ever found yourself in a situation and wonder how Jesus would respond?    Well, I found myself there late yesterday afternoon after a lengthy discussion with a church about the pitfalls of the “one click” background checks for churches. Hear me out, I understand our economic climate over the past few years and how that impacts giving.  I have served in leadership positions within the church, so I hear you.  I am a huge fan of Dave Ramsay and graduated from Financial Peace University years go so I am a huge promoter of fiscal responsibility.

However, we also have to be careful shopping for the cheapest background checks.  Yes, we might save a few dollars but at what expense?

If your current background screening partner is providing a $9 or $10 instant background check for churches and promotes this as national background check, they are not shooting straight with you.  Their justification is your state provides good data to the national criminal database you are using.  However that is irrelevant if the applicant has lived in other states, vacationed in other states, or traveled to other states on business.  Doesn’t that apply to almost everybody?

Believe me when I say it would be easy to give in and sell these cheap searches.  I could attract a lot more clients and increase profits, but I would not be able to sleep at night.

So I started thinking about how the Bible guides us and how Jesus would respond to this?

  • Steal, Kill & Destroy.  Jesus warns us about the enemy in John 10: 10-11:  “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;  I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”  I think this passage warns us we have an extremely cunning and determined enemy.  Anybody disagree? He wants nothing more than to see a child hurt or harmed because this will destroy the child and the ministry of the church.
  • Death on the Cross.  Jesus did not come and die a horrible death on the cross because he believed in taking the path of least resistance.  No, Jesus was clear that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children (Matthew 19:14). So I think He would advise us to do everything we can to protect our children, that we have a moral and social responsibility (1 Timothy 5:8).
  • Protecting Children.  Jesus is clear throughout the Gospels that it would be “better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” I think this is a directive to do all that we can to protect our children and prevent them from stumbling.  We know from research that the impact of child physical and sexual abuse can have a life-long impact on a child and certainly impacts their faith.

The bottom line is the safety and security of children, members and the ministry must be given a higher priority.  And the reality is this can be done without costing the church significantly more than the “one-click” background checks.

Are you ready to start doing background screening correctly?  Contact us today.

Download our 10 Things to Know Before Hiring a Background Screening Firm.

What is the Cost of Background Checks for Churches?

background checks for churchesThe cost of not doing background checks for churches can cost millions, destroy lives and derail the ministry.  The enemy is slick, sophisticated and finds tremendous satisfaction when he can gain entry into a ministry that is not doing everything they can to keep him out. Two recent cases involving pastors reveal how critically important background checks for churches has become.   An OK pastor was arrested last week and charged with 70 counts of child molestation involving three children ages 6 to 12.  Just a few days prior a youth pastor in Indiana was arrested for two counts of child molestation.

The frequency of incidents involving ministry staff and volunteers preying on our children is extremely alarming.  We as a community of faith need to take a moral stand and commit ourselves to the protection of our children, members and ministry.

The sad truth is we are up against a very sophisticated enemy and we cannot compete with the enemy if we are using cheap background checks.  These $9 and $10 searches do very little to reduce our risk exposure and are a waste of money.

Yes, talented sales reps and some attorneys will disagree with me and say something is better than nothing.  Keep in mind this is a legal perspective not a morally responsible position.  These cheap background checks will not keep sexual predators out of your church.

So what is the cost of background checks for churches?   A quality background check will be around $17-$22 depending on volume and at a minimum include the following:

  • Social Security Verification:  Who are they?  Have they been known by any other names?  Where have they lived?
  • National Criminal Database Search:  This should never be used as the stand-alone screening program.  It is a great tool but not a screening program.
  • National Sex Offender Search:  This is not a stand-alone screening program.  Sex Offender Registries can be out of date or only contain certain classifications of sex offenders.
  • County Criminal Record Search:  Should search the county of current residence at a minimum and best practice would include past counties of residence for a 10 year period.

It is also important to understand what is included in the background screening package and how the background screening firm will conduct their research.  A reputable background screening firm will not limit their searches to 7 years, rely only on databases and will include alias names.

Benjamin Franklin’s adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is prophetic.  The cost of background checks for churches is miniscule compared to the cost of not doing them.

Download our 10 Things to Know Before Hiring a Background Screening Firm to help you make an informed partnership decision.

Are you confident in your current background screening program?

How to do Background Checks for Churches

background checks for churchesFive years ago the question might have been “should churches do background checks”?  Today we know the answer is a resounding yes. We understand that our sanctuaries are filled with hurting and broken people who are in need of grace and redemption and our ministries are not immune to the ills of society.  Therefore churches are unique in that they have to balance redemption and transformation with safety and security. So the big question is how to conduct quality criminal background checks.  This is a challenge because the background screening industry is a lot like the Old Wild West with few regulations or standards governing how background screening should be conducted.

These lack of standards have given rise to very low quality background screening products that are extremely enticing to churches because they are instant and cheap.  Instant and cheap is great at Starbucks but it is a recipe for disaster in background screening.

The first question we should ask ourselves is why do we want to do background checks?  If our main concern is liability then the $10 National Criminal Database Searches will be appealing.  If we are concerned with protecting our ministry, our children and our members then we need to continue reading.

The so called $10 national criminal background checks marketed to churches are a waste of money and time. These searches provide a dangerous false sense of security.   All criminal databases in the U.S., including the FBI NCIC database, are incomplete.  They are never a viable option as a stand-alone screening program.  I could spend the next month providing case studies of serious felons, including sex offenders, that do not show up in these database searches.  Criminal record databases are tools not a background screening program.

Best practices in background checks for churches will require a social security verification to determine identity, other names and counties of current and past residence.  At a minimum, the package should also contain a national criminal database search, national sex offender search and a county criminal search.  Federal criminal record searches are becoming a critical and inexpensive search to add to packages with the proliferation of child seduction internet crimes.

So now you are wondering how this best practices background check impacts our $10.   The great news is a best practice background check for churches can start as low as $16.95.  That’s right for $6.95 more you can provide true ministry protection.

The first step is to select a trusted and transparent background screening firm.  Click here to download our whitepaper 10 Things to Know Before You Hire a Background Screening Firm.

Have you had any problems with background checks on church volunteers?  Please let us know below.