How Do We Make Sense of the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting?

adam lanza background checkI have stared at this screen for the past 5 days, contemplating what value I could add to such a horrific tragedy.   But with every tragedy, there are life lessons. I have struggled to understand the motive since the mass murder in Newtown, CT.  As a former violent crime detective, I am always looking for motive.  Why did this happen?

There is never a rational reason for such a horrendous crime.  Is there really anything more evil than the execution of little children?

There is generally a motive that develops.  Something we can sink our teeth into and help us understand or explain something awful.

Yet the best guess is the killer, Adam Lanza, might have feared his mom was going to commit him to an institution.  Ok, then maybe that explains why he killed his mother.

But why does he blast his way into an elementary school and execute administrators, teachers and 20 precious little kids?  One theory being floated is Lanza was angry with his mother because she volunteered at Sandy Hook Elementary and he felt she cared more for these children than she did for him.

Well, that is not a rational motive to you and I.  Maybe it was to Lanza.  Or maybe it was something else.  We may never know.

So what can we learn from this?

First, there are some real dangerous people in this world.  That should not surprise you.

Many of the Adam Lanza’s of the world do not have a criminal record so a criminal background check alone will not protect your organization.

Sadly, many of you that work with children are operating volunteer organizations, day cares, youth sports or schools on shoe string budgets.  But you are a lightning rod for someone with an evil desire to harm children.

Those who want to harm kids will always seek access to kids.

How do we prevent something like this from happening again?

Wow, there will be no shortage of debate. Gun control is already rippling through Congress.  Unfortunately, extreme evil is difficult to legislate.

I hate to admit, but I have visited hundreds and hundreds of schools as a parent, but most often to meet and discuss our background screening solutions.  Rarely do I encounter a school that requires me to buzz my way in.

Most schools I could walk in the front door and dart left or right completely undetected.  So we may have to rethink our openness.

I have never been asked for a photo ID as I enter a school.  I am generally required to sign-in.  I am honest.  The Adam Lanza’s might not be.

Do we have intercom system distress signals?  Simple codes that are constantly reinforced with teachers and administrators that can provide an alert of an incident.  That can provide direction for fleeing away from the incident.  If someone like Lanza enters a school intent upon killing children, he is not going to be fooled into believing a classroom is empty because the door is shut and lights turned off.  Kids lined up against the door-side wall or under their desk are sitting ducks.

We need to train our front-line employees (receptionist, office secretaries, etc) to be careful observers.  If they have a gut feeling, somebody makes their hair stand-up on the back of their neck, they need to share it.

We are so fearful of saying anything.

Here me.  Lanza had freaky eyes.  I would have no problem saying that.  I notice freaky eyes.  I get away from them.  I get my kids away from them.

I NEVER walk into a market that I have not scanned everyone in that market before I walk in.  I prefer to sit in coffee shops and restaraunts with my eyes on the door so I can see who is coming in (this is a challenge with a wife who was also a police officer for 20 yrs).

Paranoid?  No.  I understand there are people in this world that could hurt me or my family.  There is nothing I would not do to keep my family safe.

You must read the Gift of Fear.

The bottom line is we need to step back, take a deep breath and look at our policies and procedures.  Is there room for improvement?  Always.

We need to control access to our schools.  When I drop my kids off in the morning, I should see a teacher, administrator, or staff member standing at those doors watching who is coming in.

Thousands of parent volunteers come through our doors every day and most school districts are doing very limited background checks.  It is not worth the risk.

We need to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to keep our kids safe.

We also need to keep these families in our prayers this Christmas Season.

Are Employment Background Checks to Blame for High Recidivism Rates?

employment background checksEvery single day I am reading articles about “Ban the Box”, the EEOC new strategic plan that focuses on narrowing the use of criminal records in employment decisions and a myriad of blog comments that suggest employment background checks are to blame for high offender recidivism and that I should be prosecuted for high crimes related to my dedication to safety, security and violence prevention. I admit that after 20 years of violence prevention work, including 7 years as a violent crime detective, I am committed to preventing violence.   The current trend is to silence the voice of violence survivors and focus on external causes for offenders re-offending (that is what we have been doing for 30 years with no success).

Yes, maybe having a front row seat to the ravages of violence, interviewing women and children who have been brutally raped and beaten gives me a slightly different perspective.  For me, violence is not a benign and impersonal study but a child named Sam or a rape victim named Susan.  It is real.

I read studies like the recent NM Legislative Study that finds 50% of NM offenders are back in prison within 5 years.  And that the average offender makes 3 trips to prison.

I will say it again (because most of the comments I receive are from people who have not heard this) that yes, I am a founder and CEO of a fast growing background screening firm.  I have ALSO been involved in prison ministries and am a board member of Outreach, Inc. in Indianapolis which serves homeless teens of which criminal records and lack of employment are barriers.

So yeah, actually I do understand and listen to both sides.  But I also know that violence is a choice.

Does gainful employment play a significant role in getting an offender back on his or her feet?  Absolutely if it is married to personal responsibility and a commitment to change.

What about issues of substance abuse?  Education?  Lack of family support and structure?  Thinking errors?

Are most burglaries committed to feed a family or to satisfy a drug habit?  Depends who you speak with.

I have seen many, many people turn from a life of crime and violence and become productive members of society.  Not a single one of them would credit a job as being the one thing that turned them around.  No, they would list Jesus Christ.  Pastor.  Positive role model.  A program that instilled a sense of purpose and validated them.

The current trends are imbalanced.  And without balance, we will fall.

I agree that zero tolerance policies for criminal records are not a responsible approach to recruiting and hiring.  Also, blanket policies that tell employers they cannot ask about criminal records on an application or cannot use criminal records are irresponsible.

One of the arguments for ban-the-box legislation is that it saves organizations money because they do not have to run a criminal background check until after the interview.  Frankly, I don’t know of many employers that are running background checks until they make a conditional offer.

And for some organizations, ban-the-box will cost them more money in recruiting.  We work with hundreds of schools who have state laws that preclude them from hiring ex-offenders who have committed certain crimes.   So now they are going to invest time and labor to bring a candidate through the recruiting process only to discover at the end that they are excluded under state law from being employed.

The application is a great tool for gathering information for our due diligence process.  We know people lie on applications.  Remember the Notre Dame football coach a few years ago?   Dishonesty is and always should be grounds for disqualification.  But now we are going to remove questions about criminal records.

I know, we can ask them during an interview.  But if they lie by speaking then doesn’t that become my word against yours instead of having a signed application?

So the debate is really starting to heat up across the U.S.  What I would like to see is a balanced discussion on how to convert offenders to ex-offender status.   I think it is reasonable that we can have civil debates on the responsible use of employment background checks.

If you are unclear how the new EEOC strategic plan might impact your organization, join us for a free 30 minute webinar on 7/24/2012 at 2PM EST.  Click her to register.

Employee Background Check Lawsuit Settled for $2 Million

employee background checkBaldor Electric Co. has agreed to settle a U.S. Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs discrimination claim based on their employee background check policy for $2 million.   Baldor holds more than $18 million in federal contracts and is owned by ABB Ltd. In Zurich, Switzerland. The Labor Department investigation determined that Baldor’s background screening process had a disparate impact on women and minorities.  The result was 795 qualified women and minorities did not have an opportunity to advance to the interview stage of the hiring process.

Does this sound familiar?

It should if you have been following the EEOC over the past 12 months.  The new EEOC Guidelines issued this spring has placed criminal record checks in the center of their radar.

Now the DOL has taken the same position as the EEOC believing that the proliferation of criminal background checks is adversely affecting ex-offenders.  This is a tough new environment for employers who are trying to balance claims of negligent hiring and retention and workplace violence while at the same time having background screening policies that do not have a disparate impact on minorities.

The DOL investigation claimed that those candidates that were affected did not receive an interview because of their criminal history.  This is important to note.

Why?  Because the EEOC has made it clear that candidates with a criminal record should have an opportunity to explain the circumstances of their conviction.  This lines up with “Ban-the-Box” legislation that has been sprung up across the U.S. whereby employers in certain jurisdictions are banned from asking about criminal histories on the application.

So what are the employee background check lessons for us?

  1. Criminal background check policies should not be zero tolerance policies;
  2. Screening policies should consider:
    1. What is the nature of the criminal record?
    2. How long ago was the crime committed?
    3. How does the criminal record impact the position?
    4. Candidates should be given an opportunity to explain their criminal history.

There is a lot of activity across the U.S. impacting employee background checks so do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions.

Sexual Assault Leads to Employment Background Checks Lawsuit

employment background checksOver the past couple months the background screening industry has been buzzing about the new EEOC Strategic Plan which has placed employers on alert that they better have sound policies on the use of criminal records to deny employment.   The intent is that employers use of criminal background checks is disenfranchising too many people and there should be limits on the use of criminal records. I have said for more than a year that this debate has been very one-sided.  The only voices we hear are from those who work with ex-offenders or researchers tucked away in ivory towers working with numbers, not people.

Do I believe that employers have an obligation to be good stewards in the use of criminal record checks?  Absolutely.  We have always provided training and consulting to our partners on the proper use of employment background checks.

This should be a balanced debate.  People’s lives are at stake.

A recent  lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, VA illustrates how critically important it is to not abandon the use of criminal background checks.  A female employee of Cosmetic Essence was walking to her car after working a late shift and was attacked by a co-worker,  a convicted sex offender.  Nathan Seymore Martin was charged AND convicted of sexual penetration with an animate object.

The victim is suing for $6.3 million.  She claims that Cosmetic Essence is culpable because her attacker was a convicted sex offender and had they conducted employment background checks they would have known this.

But they didn’t.


We have to understand that this is not about money.  I have never met the victim, but having worked with thousands of victims and victims of crime organizations, I can guarantee you that the victim would give any money she receives to be able to turn back the clock and avoid being brutally raped. No amount of money will wipe away the violence.

The current movement in this country is to quiet the voice of victims.  To dehumanize the process.  Make it all about statistics instead of moms, dads, sisters and brothers.

And how will this impact Martin?  He is already a convicted sex offender so he is on the sex offender registry.  Yes, he will serve a little time.  Probably very little as his sentence was 3 years.  Which means he will be out of prison in about 1 year.  No joke.  Most states allow inmates to earn “good time” which often equates to 2 days of good time for each day served.

So in 12-18 months Martin will step out of prison into an employment world that wants to identify him as a protected class.

But the victim receives a life sentence.  She will be spend a lifetime coming to grips with being brutally and violently raped.  She will navigate a new world where her sense of safety and security has been destroyed.  Her thoughts and choices will be driven by her emotional scars.

And what drives me crazy is it was preventable.  A background check would have stopped this.

Does that mean Martin would have never harmed anyone else?  No, I am not saying that.

I am saying he would not have harmed this victim at work.  What we should do with violent sex offenders is a different article.

So the challenge for employers is to provide a safe work environment while at the same time not discriminating against a candidate.

Join us for a FREE webinar:   EEOC Strategic Plan and Legally Defensible Criminal Background Checks on June 8, 2012 at 2PM EST.

Why Should I Add Federal Criminal Record Checks? Sextortion

federal criminal searchesHow many of you have heard of sextortion?  I have to admit it was a new term for me. Well, a huge sextortion case was revealed this week in a small community near Terre Haute, Indiana.  And it has been tagged the largest sextortion case to date.

Richard Finkbiner has been charged with intercepting hundreds of sexually explicit photos of teenage boys that they thought were being sent across a private chatroom network.  Finkbiner used social media to identity and track down the boys and then threatened to use the intercepted videos to turn them into “gay porn stars” unless they agreed to make videos and send them to him.  This is a developing case with charges filed in Indiana and Michigan but federal prosecutors believe there could be hundreds of victims.

So let’s look at two lessons Finkbiner has taught us:

  1. Sex offenders will take tremendous risk to satisfy their evil desires; and
  2. Richard Finkbiner will not show up in most background checks.

Both lessons are frightening.  It is true that sex offenders are highly motivated.

The reason that this case will not show up in most of your background checks is because you are relying on cheap, instant database searches.  Even organizations doing quality criminal records checks are at risk of missing this sex offender.

Why?  Because this case is a federal crime.   Remember the difference between state and federal courts?  If not, here is a refresher.

The federal courts are not synonymous  with national.  The federal courts deal with crimes committed against the U.S. which in the past tended to be white collar crimes or more recently acts of terrorism.

However, over the past 10 years we have seen a growing number of drug cases and internet crimes (sexual exploitation, child solicitation, identity theft, fraud, etc).

The majority of volunteer organizations are not receiving any data from the federal courts because they are relying on a $10 instant criminal background check.  You would be about as well off to flush the $10 down the toilet.

The federal courts must be searched separately.  The great news is it is very inexpensive to conduct federal criminal record checks.

So unless we have added the federal search to our package, we run the risk of allowing the Finkbiners of the world into our organization.  It is not work the risk to save less than $5.

Yes, for the price of a supersized meal at McDonalds you could protect yourself against Finkbiner.

Criminal background screening is not a commodity nor is it just a “feel good” program.  It is serious business that requires serious commitment.

If you would like to learn more about federal criminal records checks please contact us.  If you want more information on sex offenders, check out our webinar archive.

Did American Idol Learn a Lesson About Cheap Background Checks?

cheap background checksIf you have been reading my articles for a while then you have heard me rant and rave about cheap background checks.  They are prevalent in our industry, quite frankly, because most background screening firms are focused on profit instead of safety. But even with my ranting, I have always pointed my finger at the screening industry for not taking the high road and educating organizations.  I do not generally point fingers at individual organizations unless you have been educated and still choose to use cheap products that place people’s safety at risk.  Then you are negligent.

However, today, I have to step back and say, what the heck American Idol.  I admit, with hesitancy, that I am a closet watcher of the show but always am quick to pass it off that my wife makes me watch it.  Really she does.  She used to be a cop, remember.

Here is what troubles me though.  I don’t know what Ryan Seacrest, Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson make, but if you believe what you read then combined it probably exceeds $100 million.

So an organization that can throw around that much money is relying on a self-report application?  Seriously?  Do you honestly think people with something to hide are going to disclose it?

No way.  And it did not work this week.

It was discovered that one of the final 12, the Gentle Giant Jermaine Jones, has criminal records for lying to police and 4 outstanding warrants.  Oops.  He didn’t understand the question on the application and checked the wrong box.

Let’s be real.  The man can sing but he has shown a history of breaking the law and lying about his identity.

Do you think Fox wishes they would have spent $50 (or less…give me a call we can work something out) to find out that the Jermaine Jones, not only had a criminal background but also had 4 outstanding warrants?

The truth is that if American Idol required quality background checks on those making it to the Hollywood round, maybe 100 contestants (guessing) then they would have $5,000 or less invested.  That is peanuts.

And maybe a criminal background check policy would have encouraged the Gentle Giant to come clean and changed the whole course of his life.  Maybe a screening program would have encouraged him to be honest.  He gets his dirty laundry cleaned and becomes a success story.

At a minimum, American Idol would have a better understanding who they are working with and minimize the risk of negative exposure like this.  Cheap insurance.

I think the real disconnect for me is why they were not conducting criminal records checks.  We partner with thousands of cash-strapped not-for-profits across the U.S. that operate on a shoe-string budget and they find ways to fund a quality background screening program.  Obviously not the same problem for cash-cow American Idol.

I have no earthly idea why.  Naivete?  Apathy?  We may never know.

The lesson for all of us is that cheap background checks do not work. They never have and never will.  Background screening requires a myriad of checks and balances to make sure somebody with an unsuitable criminal record does not slip through the cracks.

If you want to do background checks correctly, contact us.  We would love to partner with you.

What are your thoughts on the cheap background checks used by America Idol?

CA Parents Question Why Background Checks Did Not Work

background checksI don’t think I have ever heard of a school administrator terminating an entire staff but that is exactly what happened this week at Miramonte School in Los Angeles. Two teachers were arrested for child sex abuse that has allegedly occurred over many years.  Teacher Mark Berndt, who taught at Miramonte for more than 30 years, has been charged with felony molestation of 23 children ages 6-10.  Police said they have 40 photographs of Berndt allegedly committing lewd acts on children.

What is probably most troubling is Berndt was fired in January 2011.  Yes, a year ago but was only arrested on January 31, 2012.

Why is that troubling?  Well, because another teacher, Martin Springer, was arrested on February 3, 2012 on suspicion of committing lewd acts on children.  More than 12 months after Berndt was fired but no disclosure had been made to parents or staff.

Both of these teachers were hired when the background screening requirements were much less stringent.  So would it make sense for a school to be conducting ongoing background checks?

I think what some parents are really asking is why did it take more than a year for them to find out about this former teacher?  And did Springer harm any children during this 12 month period of silence?

There is no indication from law enforcement that Springer and Berndt were working together.  However, a simple disclosure to parents might have lead to a conversation between parents and children.  Detective James McLaughlin, Keene, NH Police Department, who is recognized expert on child sex abuse has said that the disclosure rates for child sex abuse exploded in Keene shortly after he became a detective and started speaking to every civic group that would allow him to speak.

How did that impact report rates?  Parents went home and talked to their children.  And children that had been threatened and intimidated into remaining silent finally broke the silence.

Both of these teachers were hired when the background screening requirements were much less stringent.  So would it make sense for a school to be conducting ongoing background checks?

Yes.  We realize that a criminal background check alone only reveals if someone has a criminal record.  So with Springer and Berndt that would not have revealed anything.  It requires more than just a criminal record check.  Law enforcement agencies generally conduct ongoing background checks that include both criminal records AND reference checks.

So the lesson for employers is our responsibility to provide a safe work environment is an ongoing process.

I also wanted to let you in on a little secret….  There is a new automated reference checking program coming soon.  It will go a long way to helping expose the Springer and Berndt’s of the world.

Pepsi Employment Background Checks Lead to $3.1 Million Lawsuit

employment background checksWould you agree that life is about balance?  It is an everyday struggle for most of us.  Eat too much or not enough.  Exercise too little or too much.  Spend too much time running kids from one activity to the next questioning our own sanity. And why should our career be any different?  Finding and maintaining balance in all areas of our life takes a lot of work.

I spent an hour this morning speaking with a journalist about the importance of balance in employment background checks.  I explained that a recent judgment against Pepsi Beverage Co. in Minnesota clearly illustrates the importance of balance in background screening.

Pepsi will pay $3.1 million to settle an EEOC investigation.  Why?  The EEOC found that more than 300 African-American applicants had been adversely affected by Pepsi’s background screening policy.

Pepsi’s policy at the time, from 2006-2010, allegedly denied employment for arrests even if there was not a conviction if it was job related.  The EEOC has long held that the use of arrest records has a disparate impact on minorities because minorities are arrested at disproportionately higher rates.

Zero tolerance policies that once dominated employment screening are now being challenged.  The pendulum has swung the opposite direction.   And I am not an advocate of zero tolerance policies.

Unfortunately, the pendulum did not stop in the middle, balancing safety, security and consumer protection.  They can co-exist.  I take consumer protection as serious as I take criminal background checks.  We take great care and pride to make sure that an applicant is not adversely affected by inaccurate information.  We write articles and provide training so our clients understand how to balance the legal rights of applicants with the legal responsibilities of conducting due diligence to ensure a safe work environment.

So we now occupy a world where the EEOC tells us that an arrest record should never be used.  Does that mean every person arrested did nothing wrong?

Hold your horses.  I get the whole innocent until proven guilty legal concept.  But does excluding a long history of arrest data on someone represent balance?

This is not a theoretical discussion for me.  I have had a front row seat on both sides. I have seen people arrested that should never have been arrested.

I also spent many years investigating violent crimes committed by family members and in 1994 developed the largest law enforcement-based domestic violence program in the U.S.

What was our first order of business?  We trained and equipped each of our investigators to build strong cases that they could successfully prosecute without a victim testifying.  Why?  The majority of domestic violence cases are dismissed because the victim is too reluctant…which is code for too scared…to prosecute.

That is why when I see a long history of domestic violence arrests it does not always scream innocent to me.    Yes, maybe innocent in a court of law.  But not innocent.  The criminal justice system has not provided a balanced approach to domestic violence victims.

However, where does that leave us as employers?  We have to have balance in our employment background checks.  And this is what I discussed with the journalist.  We have to operate under the FCRA, EEOC, ADA, state laws….the list goes on and at the same time provide a safe work environment.

How well balanced is your employment background checks policy?


A Criminal Background Check Might Have Saved Aliahna Lemmon

criminal background checkI cannot even express how angry the death of Aliahna Lemmon makes me.  This little 9 year old girl never had a chance. How could she?  She lived in a community of 12 homes but was surrounded by more than 15 registered sex offenders.

Yes, more than one sex offender in every home.  That is horrible odds for a little girl.

What is even worse is that a criminal background check could have saved her life.  A little due diligence on the part of the park she lived in.

Unfortunately in our society, the pendulum of safety and security has swung in the opposite direction.  We are more concerned with the rights of offenders than we are the rights of our sons and daughters.

Does anybody care about Aliahna?

Absolutely, would be the response of anybody interviewed.  Yet our words and actions do not match.  The EEOC has been on a mission to further restrict reporting of criminal records for years.  State legislatures have been passing laws to restrict reporting criminal information year after year hoping that employment is the key to successful rehabilitation.  Indiana went a step further last July and has made it easier for “non violent” offenders to wipe their dirty laundry clean.

I have heard over and over again how the explosion in background screening has disenfranchised offenders and led them back to a life of crime.  Really?  So I am to believe that being an offender is now a protected class?

It sounds to me like the same blame game offenders have always played.  Am I to believe that personal responsibility and choices have no bearing on our behaviors?  How many wealthy Wall Street employees have been carted off to jail?

Unfortunately, we have been heading in this direction for years.

Why?  Do we really think restricting how much information an employer can see will protect society?  FBI research has long shown that the best indicator for future violence is a past history of violence.  Hmm.

So who should I believe?  Should I believe that Michael Plumadore beat Aliahna to death with a brick and cut off her head, hands and feet because he could not find a job?

Or should I believe he committed this evil and heinous crime because he is an evil, career criminal?  The criminal record trail that runs from Indiana to North Carolina and to Florida screams evil.

So let me get back to my point that a quality criminal background check could have saved Aliahna’s life.  How?

A criminal background check by the property manager would have revealed that Plumadore had convictions for assault on a police officer, felony theft, forgery and trespassing.  Yes, I remember that this same community allows 15 convicted sex offenders to live there so Plumadore may have looked like a saint.

However, Plumadore is listed as a fugitive in Florida for not attending his court ordered anger management classes.  So maybe, just maybe, a criminal background check revealing Plumadore as a fugitive would have prevented him from living in this community and Aliahna would be alive today.  And a very remote possibility that local law enforcement would have been alerted and Plumadore might have been arrested.  Yes, very slim chance.  But just maybe.

This horrible tragedy underscores how critical it is to know who we are hiring, allowing to volunteer or lease a home or contracting with for services.  The cheap background checks that permeate the internet will provide little resistance to the Plumadores of the world.

Contact us today for more information on implementing a quality background screening program.





Erroneous Employee Background Checks Harm Innocent People

employee-background-checksI was enjoying breakfast as a new board member with the team from Outreach, a ministry that equips and empowers teens to exit street life, when I was asked, “Did you see the article in the paper this morning?” I had to admit I had slept in and skipped the morning news and newspaper (not a bad thing). As soon as I got home, I jumped online and read the article:  When You’re Criminal Past Isn’t Yours.

Well, my first reaction was absolutely no surprise.  Nothing in this article shocked me.  This is a battle I have been waging since I launched Safe Hiring Solutions.  The employee background checks war of quality, integrity and transparency vs. cheap, substandard and low quality.

My other reaction to the article was one of embarrassment.  Why?  Because we do not operate this way.  And I hate being painted with the same brush.  We believe that consumer protection is an integral part of a quality background check.

Don’t get me wrong, we find tremendous satisfaction when we expose a serious criminal record that protects our clients and the people they serve.  That is our core mission to help keep you safe.

However, I find it absolutely horrifying that so many people are mislabeled and denied employment because of cheap background checks.  That is not fair.  Not fair to the applicant and not fair to you as the potential employer.  And guess what, you are the first place they will turn when filing some form of legal action.

Yes, low quality employee background checks dominate the industry and harm innocent people.  I said it.  I mean it.  And I hate it.  It drives me absolutely bonkers to be grouped together with other screening firms that have no standard of care.

So what did the article say?  Primarily that there is a lot of junk data being wrapped up like a Christmas present and sold as a background check.  And that the biggest culprits are the database compilers.  Those companies that assemble criminal data and then resell it.

The article referenced a class action lawsuit against Hireright that alleges they did not respond appropriately to inaccurate information claims.  Allegedly a tentative settlement of $28.4 million dollars will be divided among 700,000 people (after attorneys take $9 million).

I believe so strongly in consumer protection that our staff ALWAYS verifies any possible criminal record with the court of record.  Daily we cross reference information from different sources to determine identity.  And we would NEVER report a criminal record from a database.

Why?  Well, first we know that the data is not reliable.  Databases are tools not screening programs.  We know that cases can be fluid even after a conviction.  There can be reductions from felonies to misdemeanors, post conviction relief, expungements, etc.

Yes, it is becoming more and more challenging to verify information as courts redact personal identifiers such as social security numbers, dates of birth and addresses out of a fear of identity theft (oddly it is leading to a huge increase in mislabeling by lazy screening firms which is creating a new form of identity crisis).

This is precisely why there is no such thing as an instant background check or a completely automated background check.  Do I need to repeat that?

When you remove “people” or “eyes” from the screening process it:

  • Significantly increases the likelihood of mislabeling a criminal record; and
  • Significantly increases the likelihood of missing a criminal record.

Do you like those odds?  I don’t.

The solution is that organizations must become more educated on the background screening industry and process.  There are high quality background screening firms that provide great protection to organizations and consumers alike.  This is how it should work.  It is ying and yang not ying or yang.

However, selecting the right screening firm can be like finding a needle in a haystack.  You must apply due diligence to your selection process.  You need to cut through the smoke screens, sexy technology and low pricing appeals and ask some questions.

The most important question you must ask is “What are we more interested in, safety and security or speed and low price?”  Your answer will drive your selection.

If you are most interested in speed and low price, then your road ahead will be bumpy.  And people will be hurt by mislabeling or violence.

If you answered safety and security, then you should check out these 10 things to know before hiring a background screening firm.  Let a quality screening firm filter the information and protect you and your candidates.  It really isn’t rocket science, just a commitment to doing background screening right.

What are your thoughts?

Penn State Sex Abuse Tragedy: Employee Background Check Lesson #2

This is the first time I have published two articles on the same topic back to back.  However, I think there are still so many employee background check and life lessons to learn from the Penn State sex abuse tragedy. And, quite honestly, there may be many, many articles over the coming months. Why?  Because this story will continue to snow ball.

There is new information coming out daily.  At times hourly.

As a matter of fact, my wife and I were discussing Jerry Sandusky at lunch.  We both agreed that the number of victims will probably be in the hundreds.

Luckily for Sandusky and Penn State, we may never know the exact number.  Many of the victims, grown men today, will be too ashamed, or embarrassed to admit what happened to them.

And let’s be frank, how many of them are in a position to report what happened?  Sexual violence leaves a trail of destroyed lives.

How many of these troubled and vulnerable victims turned to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain?  How many of these young boys turned to a life of sexual promiscuity to compensate for the abuse?  Or how many of the victims became a new generation of abusers, turning their anger on other innocent victims to regain a sense of power and control over their lives?

The fallout from decades of abuse from this man will plague generations.  A never ending cycle of violence spreading one victim at a time.

All last week, we watched video of an elderly Jerry Sandusky being escorted to a police car in handcuffs.  But this morning I saw an interview with Sandusky when he was much younger.

I noticed a real twinkle in his eye when talking about kids, building trust and The Second Mile organization he founded to work with (or exploit) troubled youth.  I think it is important to share the interview.  I want you to understand what you are up against.  How cunning, polished and educated child abusers can be.

Why?  Because I have said over and over again that those who harm kids always seek access to them.  I also want you to look at this man who has allegedly done absolutely awful, sadistic things to children.

He doesn’t look scary.   Quite the opposite.   He is very articulate, well dressed and powerful at the time of the interview.

Or listen to this 1 minute interview of Sandusky conducted by Bob Costas.  Listen to his admissions.  Listen as Costas asks him direct questions about his attraction to young boys.  Sandusky’s response?  He repeats the question twice before answering.  Why?  Because he is thinking and repeating the question buys him some time.

So where does that leave us?  First, the employee background check lesson for organizations serving children is those who harm kids will go to the ends of the earth to gain access to them.  Secondly, a limited background screening program will not hold up against the Jerry Sanduskies of the world.

And third, listen closely Penn State, when things are disclosed, act quickly, legally and prudently.  Take a lesson from law enforcement agencies.  When an officer is involved in a use-of-force incident, the first thing that happens is the offer is placed on administrative duty until everything is reviewed.  Removed from official duties and contact with the public.  No harm, no foul.

Let me know your thoughts on the interviews.

Trick or Treat Sex Offender Background Checks

sex offender background checksThere is really nothing more exciting than helping our 5 kids carve pumpkins.  Did I mention they range in age from 3-12? Last night was the night.  A nice dinner and then I spread the newspapers all over the bar, situated the 5 pumpkins so each of the kids had plenty of elbow room and then strategically positioned my wife, my dad and myself so we could closely supervise and monitor.

Did I mention I have 3 boys?  You could see them salivating to get their hands on a knife.  Those poor pumpkins had no idea what fate awaited them.

As the knives were slicing (pumpkins, not sisters) and seeds were flying, I was thinking about Halloween.  Remember when I said my brain rarely slows down?

I was thinking about growing up in a small town and running free on Halloween, filling a pillowcase with candy until it weighed a ton.  No real concerns. And last night I was thinking that times have changed so much (or is it I have changed so much?).

One thing I know today, that I did not as a kid, is that Halloween is a holiday on every sex offender’s calendar.  Think about it.  It is dark, kids coming to your house, dressing up.   Yikes.

Progressive communities recognize this and require registered sex offenders to attend a meeting with their probation officers on Halloween.  The goal is simple, get them off the street and away from children.

Let me pause and say that if you are a sex offender or “know one” don’t waste your time leaving a comment.  You will never sway my beliefs.  Your constitutional rights are not being violated like your crime violated an innocent victim.

Honestly, I get a handful of comments from sex offenders every time I write an article exposing their crimes.  However, if it was not for sex offender comments, I would have no comments at all.  I am still trying to figure out how to strike the same chord with our other readers.  Do I need to make you mad?

Anyway, this morning, I was overwhelmed (literally) by news stories on sex offenders:

  • Local teacher arrested for raping a female student.
  • Local man arrested for forcing an 8 year old to perform a sex act on him THEN raping a 20 year old mentally handicapped woman.
  • OH teacher convicted of having sex with 5 students.
  • AZ referee arrested for raping 2 boys

That was all before breakfast.  And sadly enough is just a smidgen of what has happened across the country in the past 24 hours.

And then the first email I open was from a friend and partner who owns an insurance company.  They had a large church client leave them to go with a competitor who offered them cheap background checks.

Sorry for repeating myself, but when you have an enemy as focused and committed as a sex offender, you cannot win that battle with a free or cheap background check.  Cannot be done.

I will say this until I am blue in the face.   Churches, schools, volunteer organizations, anybody that works with or serves children has to understand how hard sex offenders are pushing on your door.  They will take the path of least resistance.  Instant background checks leave the door open and your organization vulnerable.

I want you to know the truth.  How to setup a background screening program that will keep your kids safe.  Keep your organization safe.  Keep you safe.  So you can focus on your mission or ministry.

Don’t be tricked by the lure of cheap or instant background checks.  Implement a background screening program that is a treat.

Are you ready to jump over the fence and place the safety and security of children as your top priority?  If so, we would love to work with you.  Contact us today.

Happy Halloween.

9-11 Anniversary: 5 Lessons that Relate to a Criminal Record Check

criminal record checkWow, a decade has passed since 9-11.   It is a date that defines our history like Pearl Harbor (12/7/41), D-Day (6/6/44) and JFK’s assassination (11/22/63). 9-11 was the Pearl Harbor of our generation.  An attack on our people on our soil.

I remember every detail of that day like it was yesterday.  Part of that is because I was in Washington D.C. and only a short distance from the Pentagon.

I walked out of my hotel  on the morning of 9-11,  a few blocks from the White House, and hailed a cab for a short ride to my first meeting.  I was making a presentation on violence prevention to CSOSA federal probation officers.

The cab driver had the radio cranked and windows down.  It was a clear, beautiful morning.  I remember thinking how much I love the energy of large cities.

I also thought about a later meeting across the river at the Pentagon with the Department of Defense Domestic Violence Task Force to finalize a training curriculum on family violence prevention and intervention.

It was going to be a crazy day.  Little did I know.

At 8:30AM I bounced up the steps to the Federal CSOSA Building on K Street and was faced with a sophisticated security system. Two armed security guards and a screening checkpoint  that resembled an airport.

However, one of the security guards asked me if I was there for a meeting.  I told him I was speaking at a conference.  He ushered me past the security systems without checking me, my bags, my ID or verifying that I was indeed speaking at a conference.

Yikes, that was easy, I thought.

An hour later, I was in full presentation stride when somebody rushed into the room and screamed that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon and World Trade Centers.  We were under attack.  The participants fled the building like it was on fire.  I tried to digest the information and quickly realized my evening flight would probably be grounded.

When I hit the streets there were millions of people moving quickly away from central DC.  Mostly on foot.  No buses.  No Metro. What I remember most was the shell-shocked fear on everyone’s faces and that the only noise was the sound of news radio blasting from cars.  Nobody was talking.  The cell phone towers were overloaded.  People were hustling.

The first thing I did when I got to the hotel was turn on the TV and watched as the twin towers collapsed.   My stomach is twisting right now remembering all of this.

This past week I have been talking with my kids a lot about 9-11. Understanding that only one of my kids was even alive at the time, he was 2.

As I have watched the documentaries this week, the emotions have come rushing back.  I listen to all the mistakes that were made pre-9-11 and cannot help but relate that to background screening.

So I came up with 5 lessons from 9-11 that relate to a criminal record check:

  1. Polices are Only Effective if Followed.  The security process at the federal building I described earlier is indicative of a policy failure.  A policy without teeth is worthless.   If your background screening policy requires a background check then that applies to everybody…CEO, police officer, FBI agent or pastor.  No exceptions.
  2. Fractured Systems.  Clearly the big lesson from 9-11 was the agencies armed with protecting us did not and could not communicate.  The police and fire first responders could not communicate on the same radio frequencies.  An intelligence agency having information about the Hamburg Terror Cell and 9-11 plans did not communicate with the FBI because their attorneys would not allow them to.  Background checks are much like our intelligence community.  There is little sharing of information so a background check requires a screening program of checks and balances that rely on multiple layers or screening solutions including criminal databases and county courts.
  3. Complacency.  We have seen this again post 9-11.  I went back to the same federal building after 9-11 and the security process still allowed me to bypass it.  Complacency in with a criminal record check will get people hurt.
  4. The Enemy is Determined.  The masterminds of 9-11 planned it for years.  They were very patient and meticulous in their preparation.  This is a huge lesson for organizations working with vulnerable populations.  People who harm children seek positions that give them access to children.  They are extremely determined.  If your background screening process is weak, the enemy will exploit it.
  5. Looks Can Be Deceiving.  We have watched too many horror movies if we believe “bad people” look a certain way.  The 9-11 hijakers were not scary looking.  They were highly educated, intelligent and normal looking.   Even one airline ticket counter representative looked at Mohammed Atta and his “gut” instinct told him something was wrong.  Atta had purchased a one-way first class ticket for $2500 which was abnormal and he seemed angry.  The ticket rep pushed this aside and convinced himself Atta was a businessman by the way he dressed.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can predict if someone is good because of how they look or how long you have known them.  The airline representative had evidence but allowed Atta’s appearance to convince him that everything was okay.

As we pause to reflect on the tragedy of 9-11, we are going to hear a lot about system failures.  Let’s make a pledge to take these hard-learned lessons and improve the safety and security of our organizations.

Contact us today for a review of your background screening policy.



Those Who Harm Kids Seek Positions With Access to Kids

sex-offenderEarlier this week I was speaking at a conference on the subject of sexual assault offenders.  I discussed a study by Roy Hazelwood

one of the FBI’s pioneers in personality profiling of sex offenders.   Hazelwood had surveyed 41 sex offenders and found that each one had committed between 10-78 crimes including 837 known rapes and 400 attempted rapes. These are sobering statistics I have offered hundreds of times at conferences but still have a hard time digesting and an equally hard time understanding how such a small group of predators could destroy so many lives while avoiding detection and prosecution.

On the trip home I was thinking about how critical it is for us to continue to educate our communities on those who prey on our children.  Conferences are great but I still only reach a few hundred people each time.  So I started brainstorming how I could use our blog or other social media platforms to inform people with the care and custody of our children that those people who harm children seek positions where they have access to children.  How the sex offenders I have investigated or researched have resumes filled with years of volunteer service related to kids.

When I returned to the office I did a quick Google search on sex offender volunteers and here were the top two listings out of thousands of articles:

In Phoenix, AZ the  Paradise Valley School District (Dec 2010) allowed a registered sex offender to volunteer at one of their elementary schools.  Washington Brown, a registered sex offender, was convicted in the 1990’s for repeatedly having sex with a 14 year old girl.

The Fort Worth Independent School District ( Feb 2011) allowed a convicted sex offender to volunteer in the school and as part of the PTA.  Jon Coots was convicted in 1996 of having sex with a child and served eight years in prison.  It was a concerned parent, not a background check, that exposed the sex offender.  Coots had purposely not returned his background check authorization form and the school still allowed him to volunteer.

These stories do not shock or surprise me.  I have spent more than 20 years as a violent crime detective and violence prevention consultant, sitting across the desk from violent offenders, trying to get inside their head and gain an advantage that would allow us to prosecute them and protect our kids from them.

What shocks and surprises me is how many organizations working with children that choose the absolute bare bone minimum background checks.  This is a war for our children and our enemy is investing much more deeply in reaching our children than many youth organizations are investing in prevention.  This is a recipe for disaster.

Sex offenders are going to push on doors until they find one that is unlocked.  When we expose a violent predator through a background check at SHS there is a moment of elation that is quickly replaced with a feeling of fear because we know this predator is not going to give up.  We have blocked his shot but he is still in the game.  He is going to move on to a new organization and find one that is not doing background checks or one that relies upon cheap database searches.

There are a multitude of rehabilitation programs for offenders but not a single shred of validated research that indicates a sex offender can be treated.  We know that more than 60% of rapes are unreported so a criminal records check alone will not reveal all sex offenders.  We have too many undetected rapists among us.  Our first step is a comprehensive background screening program that includes a criminal record check and the second step is quality reference checks.  Stay tuned over the coming months as we launch a very sophisticated online reference check system iRefcheck which will revolutionize your reference checking process for a few dollars a month and help expose undetected sex offenders.

The bottom line is sex offenders are attracted to children like magnets are attracted to metal so we need to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to keep our children safe.