July 22nd, 2014 | Sterling

Building a Better Criminal Record Check (Part 3)

Complete Criminal Locator

Why Location Matters – The Secret to a Thorough Criminal Record Check

In parts one and two of our series we discussed criminal record checks based solely on a Social Security Number trace (SSN trace) or nationwide criminal database and how they are more effective when paired together.

Location, Location, Location

The common thinking is that an SSN trace and nationwide databases are standalone background screening tools – use either one and you’re good to go. But the best way you can improve the completeness of your background checks is to find as many targeted counties or states to search for criminal records. This is done by shifting your thinking to regard these searches as locator tools, or in other words, tools that point you to places where criminal records might exist.

Location is key. And by location, we mean jurisdictions within the applicant’s comfort zone. The geographic profiling model applies the distance-decay function which tells us that criminal offenders commit crimes where they are most comfortable. These jurisdictions include anywhere that the applicant has lived, worked, gone to school, or socialized. By using the locator tools to find these county or state jurisdictions, you can narrow your background search to where a crime most likely would have been committed.

Location #1: Start Local

A thorough criminal record check contains as many sources as possible for locating potential records and jurisdictions to investigate further. An SSN trace can be used to identify the residential address history and any aliases associated with the applicant. This information is retrieved from credit applications and other relevant sources.

Location #2: Go National

The Enhanced Nationwide Search is an excellent way to locate records outside of the applicant’s residential address history because it scans a database of millions of records across the country. For example, an applicant has lived in one county for his entire life, but for his birthday he travels to Las Vegas and gets arrested and convicted of assault. If a prospective employer bases their criminal record check on his residential address history alone, the assault conviction would never be detected; however, if Clark County happens to be one of the sources of the Enhanced Nationwide Search, the employer would become aware of the incident so they can investigate it further.

Location #3: Go Deeper

Arrest records are also a valuable locator tool and give an indication of where employers can further investigate to uncover relevant convictions. While the SSN trace reveals where the applicant has lived, the criminal background checks adds value to the criminal record location process by revealing where the applicant may have worked, played, gone to school, or committed a crime. Using our Vegas birthday boy as the continued example, if Clark County was not a source of the Enhanced Nationwide Search, or the records had not been updated recently, the victim notification database would close the gap by identifying the arrest record and flagging Clark County for additional research.

Each of the above locator tools work as a building block to build the foundation for a thorough criminal record check. Once you’ve located all relevant jurisdictions using the locator tools of your choice, you should use county, state, and federal district searches to validate the hits and gain further insight into the criminal history of your applicant. Validation is extremely important to background checking as it improves the scope and accuracy of your investigation. Due to the nature of locator tools, the information provided isn’t always complete or accurate so validation should be used as a way to get more information about the hits located.

The Data Isn’t Perfect

The ultimate goal for any employer is to get a 100% comprehensive background check and be confident that the wrong people don’t slip through their safety net. But the fact is, there is no guarantee and a 100% comprehensive background screen simply doesn’t exist.

Unless you search every single one of the more than 3,200 local jurisdictions for your applicant – and then every single name and date of birth alias associated with your applicant, there will always be some level of risk.

A search of “everything” is simply not logical or affordable so employers are left wondering how they can get the best and most efficient background search.

The solution is combining the value of multiple sources that have complementary benefits to get the most thorough and effective background check. Background checks are flexible and customizable to fit your organization, so consider which locator tools are right for your organization or speak with a reputable provider for assistance. Although there will always be risk involved, every piece provides valuable information to help you locate more jurisdictions to include in your search and makes you less vulnerable to hiring a dangerous offender.

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.