July 18th, 2014 | Sterling

Building a Better Criminal Record Check (Part 2)

Enhanced Nationwide

Going Beyond SSN: Why Nationwide Databases are a Valuable Locator Tool

The Enhanced Nationwide Search is a popular screening tool as it locates records outside of the applicant’s residential address history. Similar to searches based on an SSN trace alone, whenever you use only one source of information, you are exposing your company to risk. There is no doubt that the Enhanced Nationwide Search offers considerable value, but it’s far better when used as a locator tool and in conjunction with other sources such as SSN trace. You should always question the validity and reliability of any search to help identify areas where you can improve your background checks. When nationwide databases and SSN traces are used together, these tools provide more strength to a background check and locate more records.

The nationwide database has been misunderstood by some employers. The name alone implies completeness and thoroughness and employers frequently assume that they contain the majority of records. Before we go any further, let’s explore what exactly the nationwide database is. National criminal databases typically contain millions of criminal records retrieved from hundreds of sources, including county and state repositories. The sources include courthouse data, department of corrections records, most wanted lists, outstanding warrants, and arrest records. This may sound fairly inclusive, but there are a number of gaps and omissions that illustrate the risk involved when using it as a standalone search.

Gap #1: Missing Sources

Not every jurisdiction is included in nationwide databases. In some cases, entire states are left out of the picture resulting in considerable holes.

Gap #2: Snapshot in Time

Nationwide databases are considered a snapshot in time, meaning that the data is not updated regularly and definitely not in real-time. Jurisdictions and organizations report data on their own schedules so if the data hasn’t been updated in weeks or months, the information is stale or even obsolete. A real-time national criminal database simply does not exist – even the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) has significant backlogs, delays, and gaps in their information.

Gap #3: Lack of Data Standards

There is no consistency among the various participating jurisdictions in terms of quality or scope of data. The records contained for a particular data source may go back one year or twenty years. There are no data standards to ensure the information reported in the database is consistent across all jurisdictions.

Gap #4: Incomplete Records

It is not uncommon for search results or “hits” to contain incomplete or inaccurate information. A hit may indicate an arrest, but there may be no data about the disposition – what if the charge was dropped or there was a conviction? The hit may also fail to include key identifying information about the subject resulting in a name match only.

Despite the holes in nationwide criminal databases, they still add value to your screening process. Nationwide databases are most effectively used as a locator tool to identify potential jurisdictions to extend your search. When using any database search or public record search, any hits should be validated by checking the record at the source. This process helps determine if the record belongs to your applicant and uncovers all relevant details associated with the hit. As always, location is the key to a good background check.

Next up in our three-part series: How to create a better background check by using multiple sources.

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.