Criminal record checks are mostly crap.
I said it.
That might be a little harsh. They are still an important piece of conducting a background check, but they are mostly done poorly and give people a false sense of security.
Previously, I’ve explained how commercially available criminal record check sites don’t work anyway.
Also, we’ve talked about how to conduct a comprehensive criminal record check, where you’ve got to jump through a lot of hoops. A step that most people won’t take, mostly because it costs too much.
But a few recent experiences have produced even more examples why criminal background checks are mostly crap.
A recent article in the Telegram (Worcester, Massachusetts) discusses how the town of Brookfield has agreed to conduct criminal background checks on town employees and volunteers through the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) database, the state-run criminal record database.
While I applaud them for making the effort to try to weed criminals out of their local government, the only problem is that it may all be fruitless.
You see, CORI only covers state criminal offenses that occurred within the borders of Massachusetts. So, let’s say someone happened to be an axe murderer in neighboring New Hampshire. Guess what. You would never find that person listed in the database.
Or if he or she had committed ANY criminal offense in any of the other 49 states in the union, records of those offenses would not be found either. Likewise, if they committed some federal criminal offense, CORI would not pick that up either.
And if anyone applies for a position in Worcester knowing that they have a criminal record in Massachusetts, he or she should never get the job anyway.
Is Brookfield wasting $1,500 per year conducting these criminal checks? Of course not.
But it’s only giving them a false sense of security.
In most pre-employment matters, background checks are conducted going back seven to 10 years. The reason? In some cases, states limit the time you can look back into a person’s past, but in the majority of cases, it comes down to cost. The farther you look back into someone’s past, the more costly it gets.
Take, for example, Mr. Martin. We just finished conducting a comprehensive background investigation on him during the course of litigation. Mr. Martin is a licensed CPA and has had several high-profile positions with a high-profile accounting firm and another high-profile company.
Not only has he filed for bankruptcy and had numerous lawsuits filed against him for various matters, but he was charged with stalking a 17-year-old when he was 35.
Problem is, it happened 12 years and three states ago; 99.9% of typical background checks wouldn’t pick this up.
Would you hire someone to be your financial accounting manager who has had serious financial problems and was charged with stalking a 17-year-old?
A lot has been made of the failed background checks on Edward Snowden (the former NSA contractor) and Aaron Alexis (the Navy Yard shooter) conducted by USIS, the federal contractor that missed some critical information.
Regarding Alexis, according to published reports, USIS investigators knew that he had been charged with “criminal mischief” in 2004, but when asked about the incident, Alexis told them that he had “deflated the tires on a construction worker’s vehicle.” Turns out that he had “deflated the tires” with a .45-caliber pistol.
How did they miss it?
They didn’t bother pulling the police report. Another step that most people don’t do.
As far as Snowden goes, the New York Times reported that he tried to break into classified files and that the background check failed to verify past security violations or probe his trip to India that he failed to report.
But guess what. He wasn’t a convicted criminal.
A large mid-western investment firm called last week. They wanted to talk about conducting a more comprehensive background investigations on their senior executives.
Why, you ask?
Their new chief executive officer had just been fired after five months on the job after he had sexual relations with at least four people in the office. The $15 criminal background check they did gave them false hope that he was the right guy for the job and somehow missed the fact that he was a complete loser.
So here is the problem. Criminal record checks, while they are important, mostly give people a false sense of security.
That volunteer in Brookfield might be a convicted felon in another state.
The next employer of Mr. Martin may not know about his sketchy past.
The next Edward Snowden, who has absolutely no criminal record, might be sitting right in front of you.
And that sexual harassment lawsuit may be staring you right in the face.
Criminal record checks are an important part of the background check process, but they are mostly done poorly, failing to uncover critical information and possibly giving people a false sense of security.