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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.

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.

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?

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.

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.