criminal records

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?

What Does the Indiana Expanded Criminal History Check Require?

indiana expanded criminal history checkWe have been fielding a steady stream of questions about the Indiana Expanded Criminal History Check over the past few months and realized it made sense to publish some of these answers since the questions seem to be the same.  Here are the questions we answer most frequently: Do we have to search all counties of current and past residence?

Yes.  We have conducted more than 40,000 Expanded Criminal History Checks and only a small percentage have required adding additional counties.  However, we have had numerous schools opt against doing a county criminal search in a county that has a court access fee.  This is extremely risky on two levels.  First, the state law requires the search regardless if there is a fee.  Secondly, a candidate could have criminal records in this county.  Here are a couple examples:

  1. School declined a search in VT because of a $15 court access fee.  The search was ordered inadvertently and revealed the candidate had lived in VT until 2010 and had a pending felony warrant for Identity Theft.
  2. School declined a NY search because of the $65 court access fee.  A concerned parent and probation officer, contacted the school to alert them that a coach (this candidate) had felony drug convictions in NY and had his probation transferred to Indiana when he moved.

Is it worth the risk of missing a criminal record or violating state law to save the applicant a few dollars?

Are we required to screen our vendors & contractors? 

Yes.  If the school contracts for services and the contracted employee will have “direct, ongoing contact with children.”

Are we required to conduct Expanded Criminal History Checks on all of our existing employees?

No.  The law does not require this.  However, it does allow for a school district to charge an applicant for an expanded criminal background check every 5 years.  There is nothing that prevents a school from conducting background checks more frequently, however, the school would have to pay for them.

Does it make sense to screen existing employees?  Absolutely.  You have employees that have never had a background check.  Employees who have only had a limited background check.  And we know that a background screening report is history the minute it is complete.  They could get arrested the same day the report was completed and it will not show up.

Are we required to conduct Expanded Criminal History Checks on volunteers?

No.  The law does not require an Expanded Criminal History Check on volunteers.  However, there are 2 important points to consider.  First, if we know that the Limited Criminal History is ineffective, can we rely on it to keep our children safe?  Secondly, if we use a lesser standard for volunteers, we expose ourselves to legal risk if something happens.  An attorney will argue that we were not doing enough since we use a deeper search for our employees and contractors.

I hope this clears up some of the gray areas of the Indiana Expanded Criminal History law.  If you need more information on implementing a volunteer, contractor or existing employee screening program, please contact us today.

A Guide to Understanding Criminal Record Check Court Access Fees

criminal record checkHave you ever had sticker shock from a criminal background check?  If you have ever hired an employee or volunteer who has lived in our around New York City and conducted a quality background check then you know what I am talking about. The State of New York OCA Search is the most expensive search in the U.S. with a $65 price tag (additional fee).  And the kicker is the majority of courts in and around NY City can only be searched through the NY OCA.  So your county criminal record check just had $65 tagged on to it.

How can you get around the NY criminal record check court access fee?  You can’t unless you skimp on your background screening program.  It is a cost of doing business.

Several years ago, we had a school district pass on the NY OCA Search even though their applicant had lived in NY City for many years.  The savings of $65 was short lived when a parent and local probation officer showed up at a sporting event and asked an administrator how the coach passed a background check since he had him on probation out of NY for selling controlled substances.

Quickly made that $65 seem like a reasonable price.

Our policy is to notify our clients every time we need to search the NY OCA.  We have a professional obligation to let you know about the fee and we also have a moral obligation to inform you of the potential consequences for not adding the search.  Ultimately though, it is your decision.

Sadly, most organizations refuse to do the search because of the cost.  I get it.  The cost is high.  I have said many, many times the NY search is a racket.  But, racket or not, it is the only way to do a quality background check on someone who has lived in and around NY City.

New York is not the only state that has criminal record check court access fees.  Of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S., about 300 charge a court access fee.  Fortunately, most of these fees are more palatable and range from $2-$10.

Why do courts charge access fees for criminal records checks?  In NY, the counties in and around NY City do not allow for searching at the court level.

Around the U.S., most court access fees are charged because the clerk does the check. The researchers hand them a search request and they in turn charge a fee to do the check.

The good news is the majority of courts provide public access terminals for researchers to conduct the search themselves.   So court access fees should be an isolated issue unless you are located in a county with an access fee.

Would you decline searching a county because of a court access fee?

Checking Criminal Records: Are Sex Offenders a Protected Class?

checking criminal recordsHave you ever spent your whole day dealing with sex offenders?  I hope not. However, checking criminal records lends itself to days like this. And yesterday was one of those days for me.  Before finishing my first cup of java I was reviewing the pending background check of a physician who has been successful at removing his name from the state and national sex offender registry.  He was convicted and served time for child pornography.

This is certainly not new territory for me.  I was a violent crime detective with the Metro Nashville Police Department and have spent the past 20 years traveling the U.S. and Europe speaking at conferences on issues of violence against women and children.  

And violence against women and children is a topic that can really pinch the nerve of a perpetrator.  There have been times I have pinched so hard that it drew a comment from a participant.  No shock because every speaking engagement has perpetrators and victims represented.  I understand the math.

Usually the perpetrator waits and writes me a scathing note in the evaluation.  I take the comments as validation I am saying the right things.

Let me shout this from the rooftops:  I have no problem pinching the nerves of perpetrators in the defense of victims.  And I will never apologize for standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.  

After reviewing the sex offender record, I stumbled across a comment on a recent blog post I had written about sex offenders volunteering at a VA hospital.  In the past month, I have fielded many “spirited” comments from defenders of the rights of sex offenders.

Notice I say defenders because none of those commenting self-disclosed.  However, I can read between the lines.  

I thought the most recent comment might provide some valuable insight.  I will break this comment down to make it easier to dig into:

Anonymous Comment (AC):“The story was misleading and you obviously have no knowledge of ex sex offenders or of the legal system.”

Me:  Well, there is not a lick of valid research that would confirm that a sex offender ever reaches a category of “ex sex offender”.  Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.  The research is actually quite clear that sex offenders have an extremely high recidivism rate.  And, yes I do have an understanding of the legal system having been a violent crime detective and working with victims that had been raped, abused and murdered. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system rarely keeps its promise to victims of crime.

AC:  “You don't know who on the registry is actually guilty.  You are not familiar with their individual cases.”

Me:  Yes, I do.  Everybody listed on the registry has been convicted by a jury or a judge.  Have innocent people been convicted of crimes?  Yes.  However, there are far more offenders that should be on the list that are not than innocent people on the registry.

AC:  I have passed a background check and a suitability board by people who actually do know my situation.

Me:  Background check is so vague.  Was that a cheap database search?  Reference check?  How does the board know the situation?  Was the victim given a voice?

AC:  I have been through hell to get where I am serving my fellow veterans as an employee and volunteer and this guy would rather have me on the streets selling dope and and running prostitutes.

Me:  I cannot speak for someone I don’t know.  But I can tell you that I don’t want anybody on the streets selling dope or “running prostitutes.”  I have committed my entire life to crime prevention.

AC:  Ex sex offenders have been working there for decades and they just now are raising hell?

Me:  I agree.  They should have addressed this a long time ago.  

The State of Illinois is quite the contrast.  They have passed a law that suspends the license for health care workers who are convicted sex offenders or violent offenders.  

Thank you Illinois for swinging the pendulum back to safety and security.  

If you are not checking criminal records, contact us today and we will show you how easy and inexpensive background screening can be.  

Your Turn: It goes without saying I am very passionate about protecting victims.   Whether you agree, disagree or think I am crazy, I value your opinion.  What are your thoughts on sex offenders volunteering in hospitals?  Do you agree or disagree that a sex offender can become an “ex sex offender”?

Katie bar the door, I am sure the discussion will be lively!