Employers seeking to secure their companies by screening new employees with a thorough Background Check often inquire about the National Criminal Database search. And too often, my response disappoints them. The National Criminal Database is not as “national” as the name implies.
There is a widespread misconception that this search is the near-equivalent of a FBI Check, without the hassle of fingerprinting. As we explain to our clients, this is not at all a correct assumption. Although it is understandable how anyone would be confused, when so many “background check companies”, fail to educate their clients about the nature of this product.
Please allow me to explain. There is, in fact, something known as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), that is run and operated by the DOJ and FBI. This database is only accessible to authorized entities, such as law enforcement and those licensed to sell firearms, and through fingerprinting for specific purposes, such as licensing, and employment in sensitive positions.
These Background Checks are not available to the vast majority of private employers. Instead employers may use Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) that specialize in Employment Screening, to search court records in the Counties where an applicant has spent a significant amount of time. As a complement to these County Court searches, a database search may be added, often referred to as a National Criminal Database. It contains data compiled by companies and made available for purchase; and is comprised of court, arrest, prison, sex offender and other public records.
There are hundreds of millions of records in any of these databases, however, this accounts only about half of all records in the U.S. In fact, less than a third of courts in the country make their records available these vendors. Furthermore, the information that is available is most often incomplete. Many cases only provide the defendant’s name, and no other identifier. Some only report certain cases, such as felonies. Others might only provide a case number and no additional case information. To make matters worse, the information that is available is very irregularly updated . Some sources might update their information every week, while others might not do so for years at a time.
And yet, you can Google “background check” and be bombarded with websites offering a “National Background Check”, “for only $19.99!”, while making no attempt to clarify or educate consumers about the product. This is not only false advertising but it is also a dangerous deception as it is illegal for employers to make an adverse hiring decision based on the results of a database search. For this reason, employers should only use a FCRA Compliant Screening firm. We are bound by the FCRA to confirm any possible hits found in a Database, at the County Court of record and to only report accurate, up to date information.
But as long as its limitations are understood, the National Database can be a helpful complement to any screening package. When added to a comprehensive Background Check, it might reveal something that would otherwise have been missed; perhaps, a crime committed at a County the defendant was only visiting, or a jurisdiction purposefully undisclosed on their application, and for whatever reason, not caught by an SSN Trace (Address History Check).
As a researcher, I once ran a background check that would have been clear, were it not for a hit on the National Database; This applicant had reported living at his current address in CA, all his life. A check of his SSN for his address history, revealed that his current residence had only just begun the prior year. No other address was found. I found this curious, and contacted our client. I asked them for permission to add the Database search to this order, and within seconds of running it, his prison record from another state popped up on my screen. He had just recently been released after a 30 year sentence for a murder conviction! The record was confirmed at the county of conviction and reported to the employer.
Throughout my years in this field, I’ve seen numerous records revealed in this surprising manner. So although a National Database search may not be all that it seems, for only a few bucks, it can prove to be a priceless addition to your screening program.