criminal record check

Criminal Record Check: “You Ruined My Life!”

criminal-record-checkNo dude, I didn’t.  And let’s be frank, that’s okay, right?  I mean you are accusing me of something serious. First, let’s cut through the inflated self-worth and cut to the chase.  I have never met you.  I don’t know you.  And you are one criminal record check out of more than 10,000 we processed last month.  More than 10% of those background checks contained a criminal record so we really don’t have time to target an unknown person to ruin their life.

And anyway, that is not my style.  I am about building people up.

“But I have been through all kinds of background checks before and nobody else has reported this!”

Ok, I take that as a compliment.  Really.  Thanks.  Our mission is to keep our clients safe.  Simple as that.

Yes, I need to vent a little this morning.  It has been one call after another from applicants who are angry because we reported a criminal record.

Catch that?  A criminal record, they did not claim we reported an inaccurate record.

My first question is always, “Is the criminal record check accurate?”

Then I have to interrupt and put on the brakes.  I still don’t like to interrupt.  Thanks mom.  But I don’t have time for the conversation to sidetrack to an angry diatribe about an accurate criminal record being reported.

If the background screening report is not accurate, then I want and need to know.  We take great pride in providing the most comprehensive background checks available but also are very focused on making sure the reports are accurate.

We have a legal obligation under the Fair Credit Reporting Act AND a moral obligation to our clients and applicants to make sure any adverse information reported is accurate.  And if not, to reinvestigate and correct it.

Yes, the courts make mistakes.  Come on, let’s be realistic.  Court records are inputted by a human being so there is always a chance for mistakes.

Does that mean there are a lot of people falsely accused of crimes?  No, the errors we see generally surround cases that have further court action.  Like a felony that is reduced to a misdemeanor.  Or a court grants post conviction relief.  Get that.  They were convicted and the court later wiped it away.  Not an innocent person misidentified.

But that is not the conversations I am talking about here.  I am talking about a man that has called our office several times over the past few weeks upset because we reported 2 counts of Sexual Misconduct with a Minor.

So how did I ruin your life?  You can’t be implying that I had anything to do with you having sexual relations with a minor back in 2003.  Actually, Safe Hiring Solutions was not launched until 2004.  And remember, I have never met you.

The point I want to make is that none of these applicants are claiming they did not do the crime.  They did.  They just don’t like taking responsibility for what they did.

Why?  Well, for starters, they probably did not disclose it on the application.  And it hasn’t shown in other background checks so they are taking the road of dishonesty and not reporting it.  And then we call them out by reporting it.

So Mr. Criminal, I did not ruin your life.  I exposed you from the darkness.  You made a decision to use violence, to break the law and there are consequences for that.

The lesson to be learned is that a comprehensive criminal record check protects your organization.  Those criminals we are trying to keep out will manipulate, deceive and do whatever it takes to get through our doors.

And before somebody leaves me a comment about people changing, I agree.  I spoke with an applicant yesterday who had a criminal record from 10 years ago.  He was honest with me and our client and has done nothing since then.  See the difference?  Honesty and personal responsibility.  That is the key difference.

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.



No Way! My Criminal Record Check Should Be Clear

criminal record checkI can tell almost instantly when an applicant really believes their criminal record check should be clear.  How?  The crying and gulping for air.  Have kids?  You know what that sounds like.   This is a conversation I have with young applicants once or twice a month.  Generally, they have made a stupid mistake like illegal consumption of alcohol.  

The conversation usually goes something like this:

“My”..sobbing...”attorney”...gulping for air...”said”...more sobbing...”this criminal record”...gulping...”would not show up.”

“Take a deep breath,” is my first advice.

This young applicant is fresh out of college and applying for her first teaching position.  It is not the criminal record itself that has them on the not-getting-hired bubble but the lack of disclosing the record.

The employer thinks you lied.  Not good.

Honesty is #1 on most employers list of character issues.  Dishonesty in the hiring process will almost always be grounds for adverse action.

Here is the real scoop.  Unless you have the criminal record expunged, it will always show.

We receive hundreds of phone calls a year from prospective applicants wanting to know what will show on a criminal background check.  My advice is always, if you have a record, report it or you will not get the job.

The following dispositions are NOT synonymous with clear:

  • Dismissed
  • Not Guilty
  • Pre-Trial Diversion
  • Nolo Contendere
  • Acquittal
  • Adjudication Witheld
  • Pardon

Now, some of these records, still visible to background screening firms, may not be reportable under the Fair Credit Reporting Act or state law, but they are not clear.

Navigating the myriad of court dispositions during a criminal record check can can be confusing for employers.   Look at the West Memphis, AR case from 1994 that is back in the news.  Why?  DNA says the three kids convicted 17 years ago are not the perpetrators and will be freed.

Here is the catch.

The three must plead guilty to the murders.  Did you get that?  Plead guilty to get out of prison.

Well, it is called an Alford plea.  This means the defendant essentially says, “I am innocent but for some crazy reason it is in my best interest to plead guilty.”

The crazy reason in this case is freedom.  The state wants the Alford plea so the three cannot turn around and sue because of losing 17 years of their life.

Guess what.  They will be free but all future background checks will say they are guilty of murder.

I know, I am scratching my head too.  

Let’s be honest, if criminal attorneys, who are charging $100-$300 per hour and interact with the courts daily, can  honestly tell their clients that the case will disappear then why would employers have any better understanding of what will and will not show on a background check?

The only disposition that is synonymous with clear is expungement.  This is the same as wiping the slate clean.  As if it never occurred.

One key to understanding the expungement process is it does not occur naturally or automatically.  This is a process that requires petitioning the court.  

The challenge for employers is determining whether the applicant honestly believed this criminal record was clear.  Or was the applicant trying to play you, hoping that nothing would show?

The key is to partner with a quality background screening firm that is providing deep, comprehensive criminal background checks.  

If you are relying on cheap or limited 7 year background checks then this article was probably boring.  Why?  Because this issue never comes up.  These applicants are sliding through your process without having to disclose their true backgrounds.

Click here to determine if your background screening process is really protecting you from bad hires or volunteers.

Update From EEOC on Use of a Criminal Record Check

criminal record checkWell, if you have you been holding your breath, waiting on a ruling from the July 26, 2011 EEOC meeting on employers use of arrest and conviction records, you can exhale.  No big surprises. Honestly, there were no decisions made last week.  The meeting served as a platform to release a statement as opposed to a formal discussion.

There was a parade of one-sided testimonies.  Primarily programs working with recently released prisoners and attorneys advocating more limitations on the use of a criminal record check for employment purposes.

Clearly absent from the meeting was testimony from employers who have been impacted by violence in the workplace.  We did not hear from employers who have settled negligent hiring claims because they had not done enough pre-employment screening.

Yes, there was plenty of discussion about cheap background checks.  The FBI’s criminal database came under fire as it was estimated that it contained fewer than 50% of all criminal records.

It is ironic that the FBI database would be the subject of discussion since it is the same federal government that year after year passes laws requiring industries to use this database for employment screening with no requirements that the information be verified.

Private companies cannot access the FBI database without federal and state legislation.

Surprisingly, there was little mention of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the protections it provides to consumers. How it requires background screening firms to validate information and employers to follow a two-step process when taking adverse action so an applicant can see what is being used against them.

What I did hear was that the proliferation of criminal records checks is to blame for high offender recidivism rates.  We have just gone through one of the worst economic times in recent history and honest, law abiding citizens did not covert to a life of criminality in high numbers because they were laid off or displaced.

Where does personal responsibility and good decision making fit into this?  Dr. Yochelson’s and Dr. Samenow’s groundbreaking research on offender thinking errors is right on and has been used successfully to work with offenders.

They do not mention unemployment on their list.

Offenders first have to change the way they think.

The reality is study after study on offender recidivism rates in the U.S over the past 25 years has found the same thing:  nearly half of all offenders were back in prison within three years (U.S. Department of Justice BJS study ).

Studies on sex offenders have found as many as 1/3 are re-arrested for another sexual crime.  How does that correlate with feeding their family or unemployment?

It doesn’t.  It is a crime of power and control.  And study after study indicates there is little hope in changing the behavior of a sex offender.

FBI behaviorists have proven for years that the best indicator for future violence is a past history of violence.  Notice they did not say that the best indicator for future violence is not finding a job.

Yet, you want me to believe that an employer’s use of a criminal record check is the central stumbling block to a life of personal responsibility?  I don’t buy it.

Oddly enough recidivism rates have not gone up over the past 15 years.  They have actually remained about the same.  However, pre-employment criminal background screening has exploded during this same time period.

It is not a yin and yang.

Now, let me say from years and years of research, I get how critical a job is to ex-offenders.  It is an important piece of a large pie that starts with quality programming while incarcerated.

There is a right job for everybody.  There are also jobs that will be impacted by bad decisions we make.

I have trained with professionals who work with offenders and have studied Yochelson’s and Samenow’s Thinking Errors.  I believe in the program.

I have spent 20 years working to end violence and this does include working with perpetrators to change their ways.  That is code for changing the way they think and their belief systems.

However, the EEOC needs to understand that we do not have to restrict criminal background screening to make ex-offenders successful.  We can have our cake and eat it too.  Comprehensive criminal background screening and ex-offender re-entry programs can work hand in hand.

Our policies should NEVER deny employment simply because somebody has a criminal record.    We have to use common sense and sound policies to determine:

  • The nature of the crime committed;
  • How long ago it was committed;
  • And how that crime impacts the employment position.

We can do our part by insuring this 3-pronged approach is applied to each hiring decision.  The federal government can do their part by offering quality programming for offenders.  We need more re-entry programs that “integrate” an offender back into society and doesn’t just drop them off on a street corner.  The Indiana Department of Corrections partners with employers and provides a 2 year program to help a select group of offenders successfully re-integrate into society.

There are no simple fixes to offender re-entry.  Look at the past 30 years.

Ok, I admit I probably should have had a cup of java before I got on my soap box this morning.  Sorry.  Well, not really.

I Need it Now! Criminal Records Checks

criminal records checksSomebody once asked me after a presentation why I chose the topic of family violence?  Why I did not pick something more fun like pursuit driving or firearms. The truth is I did not search through a list and pick a topic.  The topic picked me.

I have always been wired a little different (just ask my wife).  I am constantly looking at situations and searching for a solution to do it better.

I learned very early in my police career that family violence destroys thousands and thousands of women and children each year.  More than 25 women and children were killed just in Nashville each year by a family member.

I knew there had to be a solution to this awful problem.  We had to quit turning our head from the problem and hold the abusers accountable.  We implemented sweeping changes and developed the largest family violence program in the U.S.

The results?  We reduced the number of women and children killed by more than 50%.

Every problem has a solution.

So I guess it was no shock to those close to me when I launched Safe Hiring Solutions in 2004.  I had studied and evaluated the background screening industry and concluded that the industry lacked transparency and honesty about criminal records checks.

Unlike the family violence program I helped launch, the background screening industry was not born out of a necessity to provide safety and protection.  It was created to broker information.

I would be remiss if I blamed the lack of standards solely on the background screening industry.  Quite honestly, you and I have to take some responsibility as consumers.

We live in a world where everything is immediately at our fingertips.  The internet has made me extremely impatient.  If I want to watch a movie I don’t have to go 3 blocks to the video store.  I just hit the Netflix icon on my laptop and choose a movie.

I want a book.  Boom.  One click and I can have it delivered to my Kindle.  I am reading in less than 2-3 minutes.

I am more guilty than most when it comes to being constantly connected.  No problem if I need something from the office.  I can VPN from anywhere in the world and grab it.

So it is no surprise that you want criminal records checks done instantly and cheaply.  I wish it was possible.   I really do.

However, the truth is there is no such thing as an instant background check.  I know, you have talked with other background screening firms and they have told you they have instant national background checks for as little as $8 or $10 (or less).

No, they have a cheap background screening tool.  A screening program consists of many screening tools working together.  A process of checks and balances.

Yep, $8 might buy you lunch at McDonalds but it will not buy you a quality criminal records check.  Sorry.

This is not a game.  Cheap background checks place people’s lives at risk.

I have not spent the past 20 years fighting for the rights and safety of women and children to compromise my values and sell cheap criminal records checks.  I will not place profit before safety.

No matter what you have been told by a screening firm, there is no such thing as an instant background check.  Instant searches are tools that must be included in a screening package.

Are you looking for a screening partner who is transparent and honest?  Who provides the highest quality and most comprehensive searches available?  Contact us today.

Criminal Record Check: “That’s My Brother From Another Mother”

criminal record checkHave you ever heard something and you just couldn’t get it out of your head?  A great song.  A snappy advertising jingle. Thanks to Bernie Focker I have used his famous quote “that’s my brother from another mother” over and over for the past  7 years.  Just slips right off my tongue when I walk into our pee wee baseball dugout and slap knuckles with the little Royals.    Thanks Bernie.

So what does the movie Meet the Fockers have anything to do with a criminal record check?  Actually, this quote from Bernie is one I hear over and over again from applicants who did not get a job because of a criminal record:  “that’s not me.”  “It belongs to someone else….a brother from another mother.”

Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, we have a legal obligation to reinvestigate legitimate challenges to the accuracy of a criminal record check.  I support this.  Nobody should be denied employment, a place to live or a chance to volunteer because a court made a mistake.

And yes the courts do make mistakes.  They are human.  Study after study indicates that 98.7% of inmates are innocent.   Well, large sample studies conducted on the prison yard.

What kind of mistakes are we talking about?  The most common mistakes made by courts are:

  • Date of Birth Entered Incorrectly
  • Felony was Reduced to Misdemeanor After Probation
  • Conviction Converted to Conditional Dismissal
  • Post Conviction Relief
  • Expungement

As you can see by this list, most of the mistakes made on a criminal record check are not misidentification but clerical errors.  Information either entered incorrectly or final dispositions from the courts that are not entered into the public access terminals.

So I use the Bernie Focker filter to determine if the challenge is legitimate or illegitimate.  Here is an example of one that flunked the test:  “That is not my criminal record.  That is my sister.  We have the same name and social security number.”

background screeningNow, as a kid I loved the Bob Newhart Show.  I loved Larry, his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl.  But come on, that was Vermont in 1972.  Today, giving all your children the same name is illegal under federal law.   OK, maybe not illegal but it is not common.  And it is not possible to share an SSN.

How dumb do I sound on the phone?  Ok, don’t answer that.

Here is one that passed the test:  “It was my cousin.  He has been in trouble his whole life.  He is always using family member names and SSN’s when arrested.”  True that.  We had flagged the report before returning it to our client and after a lengthy conversation with the applicant and going through the entire case file we determined it was his cousin.  Record not reported.

The biggest red flag from an applicant is when they say it is not me, I have never been in trouble, I would not do anything like that.  Yet, the courts show sheet after sheet of criminal records with name, DOB, SSN and address matches.

I have heard every excuse under the sun about how a criminal record check is wrong and how it was not them.  However, time after time it is in fact the applicant’s criminal record.

Why?  Because we take extreme caution in making sure all criminal records we report belong to the applicant.  We ask our researchers to cross check with social security numbers when possible, or dates of birth, or a driver’s license number and sometimes we have to settle for an address that we match up with their address history search.

The bottom line is we take reporting criminal records very seriously.  Yes, I have a jaded sense of humor from more than 20 years working as a detective and violence prevention consultant.  But nobody at Safe Hiring Solutions takes reporting a criminal record lightly.  We go the extra mile to ensure the record can be cross verified with other identifiers.

So the next time your applicant gives you the it’s not me excuse, send them to us.  We will evaluate it, reinvestigate if required, and let you know the outcome.

Contact Us today to make sure your criminal record checks are the best in the industry.

Your Turn:

Did you know applicants have a right to challenge a background screening report?