2 Dangers of Volunteer Background Checks

volunteer background checksHow much do volunteer background checks cost?  It is the one question we are asked many, many times per day. Every request for information is really a request for pricing.  The handful of times each month that a potential client is focused on safety and security is almost always driven by an incident where a volunteer with a violent background passed their current background screening process.

Unfortunately, they have learned the hard way about the low standards of care in background screening.  How the screening industry has no standard definition of what a background check consists of.  And how easy it is for violent offenders to receive a clear through these cheap criminal database searches.

So when a large volunteer organization told us today that they can get the exact same background check for $3 I just sighed.  Then I laughed (not on the phone).  Not because it is hilarious.  But because I have spent more than 8 years focusing on educating organizations on how to protect themselves.   I have been presenting at conferences, blogging, conducting webinars, conducting interviews in print radio and television.  Talking until I am blue in the face.

I laugh because it is preposterous to think you can protect a child for the cost of the latte on your desk.  I laugh because that is what I do when I am frustrated.  I know that large numbers of children are now at risk with this organization because they are more concerned with saving a few dollars than protecting them.

Conducting low quality criminal record checks plagues the volunteer world.  Believe me, I get it.  I have seen the eye-catching marketing that makes you believe for $10 you can ensure the safety of your organization.

However, these cheap background checks are placing your organization at great risk of allowing someone to volunteer who is intent upon harming a child.

Here are the 2 biggest dangers of volunteer background checks:

  1. Instant Results.  If your background screening program is instant, then it is junk.  There is no such thing as an instant background check.  Background screening requires multiple levels of screening including searches of county courts where candidates live or have lived.
  2. Less Than $10.  Sorry but you cannot conduct quality background checks for $3 or $10.  Cannot be done.  Read the disclaimers on the $10 search and see if you are still comfortable.  This is a search of incomplete databases.  There does not exist a database, not even the FBI’s NCIC that is complete.

It drives me crazy how background screening firms place profit above the safety and security of children.  And these cheap criminal database searches are very profitable.  There is no labor.  You do all the work of inputting the names and filtering the results.

I honestly could not sleep at night if we were peddling these incomplete searches.

So what do you need to do if you are are using an instant background check or one that costs $10 or less?

Join us for a webinar How to Conduct Comprehensive Volunteer Background Checks.

Should Volunteer Background Checks Exempt Law Enforcement?

volunteer background checksWell, the simple answer is absolutely not. Both from a moral and legal perspective, you must treat everyone the same. I understand wanting to exempt law enforcement from volunteer background checks.  I get it.  It saves cash-strapped organizations a few dollars and speeds the process of getting the much-needed volunteer in place.

However, where do you draw the line?  What happens when other volunteers want to bypass your background screening process because they have had a criminal background check?

The legal issue is you are creating a process that does not treat everyone the same.  And from a policy standpoint, how do you verify the criminal record check is acceptable?  Do you confirm when the report was completed? How far back they searched?  Were alias names searched?

Just because a law enforcement officer has completed a background check does not mean it was extensive.  A search of the FBI’s NCIC database is far from complete and this is would be the gold standard search for law enforcement.

Quite honestly, many law enforcement agencies treat criminal background checks as a pre-employment process.  One time and nothing over the next 20 years.  A lot can change in 20 years.

And do we believe that law enforcement is immune from hiring undesirables?

Yes, I admit, even as a former detective and from a family of police (grandfather, father, wife, brother and cousin) that I was extremely naïve when I was a rookie officer.  But my naivete was shattered very early in my career when officers I worked with were arrested for raping their wife, robbing drug dealers or protecting known criminal enterprises.

As a child of Kojak, Adam 12 and Police Woman (ok, if you are that young rent them on Netflix), this reality was a hard pill to swallow.  Police officers had always been my hero.  And they still are.

But I also understand that law enforcement is a highly attractive profession for those with less than ideal motives.  Several years ago there were two studies that found that law enforcement is one of the most attractive professions to people who abuse family members.

And if that is not enough, have you followed the recent high profile child pornography case involving a retired FBI agent from Carmel, Indiana?

It is alleged that retired FBI agent Donald Sachtleben possessed and distributed child pornography.   According to prosecutors, he emailed 9 images and indicated he had more to send if they liked them.

I am rarely shocked by law enforcement criminals like Sacthtleben.  However, what struck me was the bold email address that he operated with:  Pedodave69@yahoo.com

Talk about being bold and arrogant.  I give him credit, at least he was open with the fact that he is a pedophile.

Sick.  Sick.  Sick.

Do you realize this is the enemy you are trying to keep out of your organization and away from your kids?  There is no way a cheap $10 background check will keep Mr. PedoDave out of your organization.

Yes, I know he did not have a criminal record before this arrest.  However, these cheap $10 criminal background checks that thousands of volunteer organizations rely upon will still not uncover his recent arrest.

Why?  Because this is a federal crime.  You can run all the $10 so-called “national background checks” and you will find him clear.

So the most important lesson is that nobody should be exempt from volunteer background checks.  Secondly, cheap $10 national background checks are not match for the Sachtleben’s of the world.

If you are ready to do volunteer background screening correctly, contact us today.


Should Law Enforcement Be Exempt from Volunteer Background Checks?

volunteer background checksOver the past few weeks I have been asked several times if law enforcement officers should be exempt from volunteer background checks.  The quick and easy answer is nobody should be exempt from a criminal background check policy. Let me start by saying that I love police officers.  Literally.  My wife is a retired police officer.  My grandpa and my dad are retired police officers.  I have a brother and an older cousin who are police officers.   I was also a detective with the Metro Nashville, TN Police Department.  So you can see why I love police officers.

I have also spent 20 years dealing with the special treatment of law enforcement officers both as an investigator and as a consultant.  Back in 1994, I helped develop and implement the largest law enforcement-based domestic violence unit in the U.S.  And I learned very quickly that law enforcement was not immune from this crime but actually had higher perpetration rates than the general public.

I was blown away by the volume of domestic violence perpetrated by police officers.  Studies in the 1990’s listed police officer as one of the most sought after positions for an abuser.  Really?  Yes, it shouldn’t be a surprise since domestic violence is a crime of power and control and the position of police officer affords tremendous power and control.

When we launched the domestic violence program in 1994, the department had an informal policy of sweeping these incidents under the rug.   There was a lot of resistance to investigating police officers and holding them criminally accountable for their actions.  Shh.  Keep it quiet.

Morally, there was no way I could do this.  I had taken an oath to protect and serve.  How could I let officers who committed the crime of domestic violence have a free pass?

I couldn’t.  The law applies to everyone.  If you commit a crime, you are a criminal regardless of whether you wear a badge or not.

Legally, the federal courts have made it clear that police officers are required to provide equal protection under the law.  The 14th Amendment clearly requires equal protection of the laws.  No exceptions.

Just reading through newspapers over the weekend I came across three articles where police officers had gotten arrested:

  • Two Marion County, Indiana Sheriff’s Deputies fired for separate incidents.  One was arrested for public intoxication and another for creating unsafe living conditions for his children.
  • Sheriff in Louisiana fired for protecting mistress and her drug dealing business.
  • Officer in Tennessee was fired after assaulting his girlfriend.

So the answer is no way should law enforcement officers be exempt from your volunteer background checks.   Our background screening polices should be applied equally.

The Safe Hiring Solutions ongoing background screening policy does not exempt me as the founder and owner.  I submit to the same background check.  I am not above the process.

And let’s be honest.  The request to bypass your background screening policy is generally rooted in a sense of entitlement.  Why should I have to do that?

I would caution organizations who break with their policy and create exceptions.  You might be creating a legal problem down the road when other professionals ask for a free pass because they have had a background check.  We don’t want to create unequal applications of our policy.

I would suggest you draw a line in the sand and require everyone to submit to your volunteer background checks policy.

Volunteer Background Checks: Boy Scouts "Ineligible Volunteer Files"

volunteer background checksHave you heard about the ineligible volunteer files kept by the Boy Scouts of America?  It seems the Boy Scouts have kept a secret file since the 1920’s on sex offenders who are not allowed to volunteer. There has been a lot of pressure to release the secret files in recent years.  The Scouts have resisted stating privacy concerns of the victims involved.

Like a good game of ping pong, the argument goes back and forth.  The Scouts claiming privacy concerns.  The family of abused victims claiming the Scouts are concealing sex abuse cases.

The volunteer background checks argument has now landed in the lap of a judge in Santa Barbara, CA.   Former volunteer troop leader Al Stein is facing an April trial for allegedly molesting a 13 year old boy in 2007.  Stein also pled no contest to felony child endangerment in 2009.

The judge has ordered the Boy Scouts to turn over the confidential files.  More than 5,000 records going back to 2005.

The existence of a secret file is troubling for parents, the families of victims and advocates.  Secrecy has always been a weapon of choice for sex offenders.

Shh. Don’t tell or you will get in trouble.

Shh. Don’t tell or I will hurt you or your family.

Shh. Don’t tell because nobody else will understand what we have.

Let’s not pile on the Boy Scouts.   We see predators gaining easy access to children every day.

How about the high school basketball coach arrested in Indianapolis last week “partially nude” with a 17 year old girl?  Maybe there is a reason why a 65 year old basketball coach would expose himself in a vehicle with a 17 year old girl.

However, within hours of the arrest, the coach resigned.  And staff members said they had heard rumors about him.

We cannot allow a culture of silence to aid and abet predators.  It’s time we take a stand, pull back the curtains and let the light in.  Expose the violence and protect our kids.

This is precisely why a criminal record check alone will never protect us from sex offenders.  More than 80% of sex offenders are undetected.  They have never been arrested.

Unfortunately most volunteer organizations are extremely vulnerable to allowing a sexual predator in their doors.  Why?  Because safety and security has become a commodity.  We shop for the cheapest product on the market which we justify as doing something.

However, our enemy is much more sophisticated.    The cheap $10 “national” volunteer background checks are no match for sexual predators.   Since 80% do not have a criminal record they are not going to show up.  And many of those with a criminal record will not show up in these cheap database searches.  These cheap screening solutions being peddled by the background screening industry leave a trail of broken lives and shattered innocence in their wake.

We must recognize that any organization that serves children is a magnet for sexual predators.  They are knocking on your doors.  Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to protect our children?  Don’t we owe that to our kids?

#1 Hidden Danger of Quality Volunteer Background Checks

volunteer background checksHow many of you have kids?  Do you ever find yourself telling them the same thing over and over again?  Come on, I cannot be the only one. “Clean your room.”

“Pick up your dirty socks off of the living room floor.”

“Put the lid up when you….”   Okay you get it.  I have 3 boys.

It wears me out.  I keep thinking one day it will click.  No more broken record saying the same thing over and over again (how many of you even know what a record is?).

I also face the same frustration at work every day.  It is the same conversation over and over again with hundreds of volunteer organizations.  Yes, you need to be doing background checks on your volunteers.  No, you cannot select the cheapest service you find on the internet.  No, there is no such thing as an instant background check.  No, you cannot screen volunteers for $10.

Have you followed the Penn State tragedy?

I honestly think that the #1 hidden danger with volunteer background checks is apathy.  A genuine lack of interest or indifference.

Every day I speak to potential clients, present at conferences or online webinars or publish articles on quality background screening.  My efforts pale in comparison to the money the background screening industry spends to convince you that volunteer background checks can be done instantly for a few dollars.

By the end of most days, my voice is hoarse and my fingers are tired.  Have you ever tried to motivate a lack of interest?  Think of kids and homework.

However, this apathy to background screening has come home to roost.  I have 5 active kids that play sports- baseball, basketball, football, karate.

Our community has passed a policy requiring all coaches to have a criminal background check.  Unfortunately there was no definition or requirement for how a background check is done.  Which has lead to a search for the cheapest provider.

The problem is the community does have a policy that clearly defines what criminal offenses are excluders.  For the policy and the screening process to work in harmony, to provide protection to children and the community, then selecting the right screening partner is paramount.

What point is a strong policy if it is implemented with a weak screening program?  Yes, there is still a lot of indifference.  I listen to the comments.  “We know everybody.”  “We are a small community.”  “We can’t afford it.”

Do we really know everybody?  No way.  That is a false sense of security.  I have looked around at some of the volunteer coaches and I know they have criminal histories that include domestic violence, driving under the influence and drug possession.

I have spent almost 20 years criss-crossing the U.S. and Atlantic Ocean working with communities to end violence against women and children so I can tell you that I would NEVER allow my children to be coached by someone who believes they are justified in using violence, coercion and intimidation against their spouse our children.

What is scary is I recognize these coaches with criminal records and they are in a small pool of coaches I know.  There is a much larger pool of coaches I don’t know.  Are we comfortable with a hit-and-miss style of screening?

And save your breath, I don’t buy the “we-can’t-afford-it” story.  That is pure baloney.

I would have so much more respect for someone who honestly said, “screening is not a priority.”  Frightening, yes.  But honest.

Truthfully, I have never seen an organization that did not find money for their priorities.  The same groups that say they do not have the money will gladly raise their participant fees $10 to cover the costs of new uniforms, warm-ups, bags, matching shoes or the cost of traveling.  But they would never raise the participant fee $3 to ensure the safety and security of the children.

Now, I have served on many boards- sports, church, homeless teen ministry, domestic violence- and have witnessed control issues seeping into the boardroom.   I would hate to think that control- “you are not going to tell me what to do”- would generate the resistance to background screening.

We should recognize that our coaches are also role models.  And even volunteer coaches should be held to a higher standard.  They are influencing a young life.

I understand a DUI or public intoxication record may not be a game stopper unless the coach could be driving players to games or practice.  But quality volunteer background checks will provide the information to make sound policy decisions.

Implementing quality volunteer background checks is not an easy task.  As we work through a process of overcoming resistance- control, ignorance, financial- we have to make sure we don’t acquiesce to the resistance and implement a low quality background screening program.

Don’t fall prey to cheap volunteer background checks.  The screening industry recognizes that ignorance +tight budgets = high profit.  They will hook you on a $10 volunteer background check that has a high failure rate with violent offenders, drugs, online predators and the list goes on and on.

Are you willing to take that risk?  If not, contact us today and we can guide you through a process of implementing a quality volunteer background screening program.

Don’t Let Volunteers Dictate Your Criminal Background Check Program

background check programEven after 20 years of violence prevention work, I am still occasionally surprised. This time it is not a criminal trying to slip through the cracks (I don’t think) but a management decision that has left me puzzled.  And a little worried. How would you handle a candidate for employment that did not like your background check program?  Is it up for debate?

I hope not.

So I was more than surprised last week when I learned of an organization that had made a decision to require comprehensive national criminal background checks of their volunteers reverse their decision after only 6 weeks.  So why did they reverse their decision so quickly?

Volunteer displeasure and resistance.  The potential volunteers did not like the policy change that required them to pay for the background check.

That is completely understandable.  Change is rarely popular and especially when it comes attached to a price tag.

However, cash-strapped organizations that serve children are making this same policy change every day.  It is becoming more the norm than the exception.

Yes, expect some push back from volunteer candidates.  But don’t anticipate your volunteer pool drying up.  It won’t.

Just be prepared for a little protest.

Also understand that if you articulate why you are making the change then the resistance will be disarmed.  Make it clear that the safety and security of children is your mission.

What volunteer believes the price of the safety and security of children is too high?  Very few.

And if they do, they will sound like the volunteer candidate who called our office several times last week complaining about our background screening process.  He was angry, arrogant and rude to our staff.

I regret that I was not here to take his calls (seriously).  He would not have found a shoulder to lean on nor would he have received an apology about our background screening program.

Mr. Angry Volunteer Candidate here is what I would have said to you:

“Didn’t your mother teach you anything?” (Okay, I probably would not have opened with that line.)

“Sir, if you want an overview of what we do and how we do it, no problem.  But I am not going to argue about whether you think this should be a policy or not.”

“Can I finish?”  Angry, arrogant and rude usually equals constant interruptions.  I-am-only-concerned-with –what-I -want mentality.

“Hey, have you ever held back tears while talking to a young child that has been raped?”

No response.

“I hope not.  It is awful.  I have a images of victimized children burned into my brain.  Kids who have been beaten, molested and even killed.  Their hollow eyes.  Eyes that scream why did this happen to me. Their fear.  I will carry these children…their names…their faces…I will carry them with me forever.”

“So Mr. Angry Volunteer (I would not say this but would like to), I guess you have a couple options.  You pay for the background check and volunteer.  Or you don’t.  It is nothing to get angry about.  You have options.  Sign the authorization or don’t.”

Displeasure with a volunteer fee will fade when parents....yes parents who are volunteering...understand that you have the absolute best interest of their child at heart.

If the resistance does not disappear for a handful, so be it.  There are two camps of candidates that may continue to resist the process:

  1. Those who have something to hide; or
  2. Those who think they are above the process.  Guess what…

Okay maybe a third candidate:

  1. Those who do not need to be volunteering with kids because they are not a quality role model.

Protecting children is not a debatable issue.  Dig your feet in and make that clear.  Changing direction sends the wrong message.  It says there are limits to how far you will go to protect a child.

Allowing volunteers to dictate your screening process exposes your organization to risk of a lawsuit.  Can you imagine testifying in court after a child is harmed that you switched to a comprehensive background check because what you were doing was too limited. Then disclose to the judge or jury you switched back because your volunteers did not want to pay for it.

Are you are about to adopt a volunteer background check program that requires the candidate to pay?  Contact us.  We can connect you to hundreds of organizations that have implemented a volunteer-funded screening program successfully.

Remember. I did not say you won’t hear some grumbling.  Have kids? Do they ever grumble at your rules that are in their best interest?

How do you feel about charging volunteers for background checks?  Come on, tell me what you think.

5 Reasons for Low Quality School Volunteer Background Checks

school-volunteer-background-checksI have to admit I am a bit of a social media junky and have been amazed over the past few weeks at the number of blog posts and tweets bemoaning  school volunteer background checks.  Who complains about schools requiring background checks? The complainers range from the highly ignorant to the highly educated.  However, hardly a week passes that I do not come across a school teacher or volunteer in trouble for a relationship with a student.

What is frightening is many school districts conduct low quality background checks on their volunteers.  And if we pair these low quality background checks with the huge volume of volunteers that walk into our schools each year we have a recipe for disaster.

So what are the 5 main reasons for low quality school volunteer background checks:

  1. Money.  These are tough times for schools, budgets have been cut and money is tight.  However, like every organization we always find money for the things that are important to us.  A leading financial guru recently said “show me your checkbook and I will know where your priorities are.”
  2. Misunderstanding.  Schools may be using out-dated state repositories or sex offender registry searches.  Both of these options are extremely limited and provide very little risk mitigation.
  3. Volunteers are Never Alone with Kids.  Sophisticated offenders do not have to be alone with a child to harm them. They can molest a child in a crowded classroom with teachers and other volunteers present.
  4. We Won’t Get Volunteers.  If a volunteer is offended by having to submit to a background check then they have something to hide, are ignorant of the dangers in our schools or feel they are above the process.  Education will solve most of these issues.
  5. Background Screening Firm Selling Cheap National Database Searches.  If a school uses a “one click” instant background checks for $9 or $10 as a volunteer screening program save your money, you may need it for legal fees.  The vast majority of criminals, including sex offenders, can slip through these databases.

Just last week a former high school volunteer pled guilty to one felony count of child seduction after admitting to having sex with a student.  The convicted sex offender avoided a prison sentence but is required to register as a sex offender for the next 10 years.  Keeping these offenders out of our school hallways must become a top priority.

Join us for a FREE 30 minute webinar on 06/09/11 at 2PM EST:  School Volunteer Background Checks: Protecting Kids & Reducing Risk

Do you think volunteers pose legal risk to schools?  Let us know what you think below.