A few months ago, PandoDaily broke a story that a driver for Uber, the popular ride-sharing service, assaulted a passenger, called him a “dirty Mexican faggot,” and then struck him. PandoDaily later reported that the driver had an extensive criminal history, including felony and misdemeanor charges and at least one felony conviction that resulted in prison time.

(Frankly, it probably would not have been news if not for it’s explosive growth, controversial surge pricing and skyrocketing value of Uber, reportedly worth more than $3.4 billion in a few short years.)

Nevertheless, the question became, how did Uber, which claimed to do background checks on all its drivers, miss this?

My response, when contacted by PandoDaily, was that either they weren’t doing background checks at all or “they’re doing such shitty background checks that it won’t come up.” It’s one of the worst quotes ever, I know. (Note to self – don’t say things to a reporter that you don’t want to be quoted on.) But it would have fit pretty nicely into our blog post a few months ago discussing how Criminal Record Checks are Mostly C**P.

Then, just last week, the Chicago Tribune found that a Chicago driver had a felony conviction for a residential burglary and had also been convicted of at least two misdemeanors.

In response to these background check gaffs, Uber released its new policy on their “expanded background checks,” in which they said that they now use a “Multi-State Criminal Database” to conduct criminal background checks. They go on to say that “some counties do not participate in this reporting” and that “relying on the Multi-State Criminal Database may miss records.” Under their new expanded program, drivers “will undergo federal and county background checks on top of the existing Multi-State Criminal Database check.”

Dig Deeper: 5 Reasons Why Background Investigations Fail

”Multi-State Criminal Databases” Are Mostly Hot Air

Many employment firms, investigative firms, databases, etc. tout a national criminal database, or in this case a “Multi-State Criminal Database.” Effectively, these may include records from various sources such as sex offender records, prison records and arrest records, adding up to what they describe as a national or “multi-state” criminal check.

But the problem is that these databases are not comprehensive or reliable. They do not cover every state, county, or local offense. So, for instance, if this “multi-state criminal check” did not have data from the county that the person you are searching for information about lived in, it’s pretty much a pointless search.

The driver with the extensive criminal history was arrested and charged in San Francisco County, where he worked. The other was charged in Cook County (Chicago), where he worked. Clearly, the multi-state criminal check did not cover either San Francisco or Chicago, otherwise this mess would have never happened. In fact, I am not aware of any online database source that covers San Francisco County or Cook County (Chicago) criminal records, other than going directly to the court.

So while Hirease, a company that conducts background checks, says that its multi-state criminal search covers “40 states plus DC,” it does not cover every offense or every county within those states. In fairness, Hirease recommends that the multi-state criminal search service should be used “in conjunction with a county-level criminal search.” But I guess that’s not always the case.

County Criminal Checks Are Essential

Uber acknowledged that “relying on the Multi-State Criminal Database may miss records” so under their new “expanded background check,” drivers “will undergo federal and county background checks on top of the existing Multi-State Criminal Database check.”

As we described above, multi-state criminal databases do not include every case in those jurisdictions. It’s not even close.

Since state-level criminal records (which encompass the most common criminal offenses) are filed in the court of the county where the person was arrested, wouldn’t it make sense to search those specific records where the person currently or previously lived or worked?

A “county background check” does that. It includes specifically checking the criminal court record in those counties. So in addition to utilizing a multi-state criminal database, which encompasses a wide area but is not complete and “may miss records,” conducting a criminal search in the specific county that they live or work is essential.

Dig DeeperHow to Conduct a Criminal Background Check Like an Expert

In the case of Uber, if they had completed a countywide criminal check in San Francisco and Chicago by physically searching the records at the courthouse (which is the only way I am aware of  doing a criminal check in those jurisdictions), they would have never gotten into this mess.

A Disservice to the Industry

Personally, I think employment-screening firms are doing a complete disservice offering a “multi-state criminal search” and not requiring a county-level criminal search. It doesn’t do anyone any good when serious criminal convictions in major metropolitan areas are not uncovered in the “multi-state criminal” search.

I get it. Most clients probably don’t want to pay for more comprehensive services and are merely doing the most minimal check possible to cover their asses.

But what good is it when everyone looks bad?

Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Coles / Creative Commons


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1 reply
  1. Aimee
    Aimee says:

    Nice read. I just have one question as I am “new” to this area of expertise. In reality, I have a lawyer, but he does not know how to do what I need done. Which is, I need a thorough background check on 4 states on one individual. Advice please? Please email me if this is a service you can provide or refer me to a good PI in my area. Thanks!

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