The Background Check Lullaby

Written by Matt Visser

Background checks have been a hot topic lately because of the on-going gun control discussion.  In many ways, background checks are misunderstood and largely a misplaced stigma surrounds them and the accuracy of them.  Many of the movies and television shows we watch have convinced us of capabilities that the government simply does not have.  This post is intended to be informational and create a general awareness.  Should there be sufficient interest in the subject, I will provide specific citing’s and research to collaborate my statements.

I am the President and Founder of a background screening company (consumer reporting agency) and have been in the industry for almost 10 years.  Our organizations services employers of all sizes, in all industries, all over the country as well as property managers and volunteer organizations.  I have intimately interacted with criminal record repositories from almost every county and parish in the country, every statewide repository, numerous private nationwide record databases, the FBI’s universal record platform, and other federal and state ancillary record databanks.  My company processes many thousands of background checks monthly.  A background check is only as good as the data that can be searched and unfortunately, in our country the data is not great.

You might be surprised to learn that the federal government does not have a centralized storehouse of criminal records that continually receives records from all the courts across the country.  In fact, there is almost no legislation around how criminal records are kept, stored, disseminated, accessed, or termed from a fundamental stand-point across the country.  The FBI database has problems from how it receives records to what is in them and the accuracy of them.  Criminal records have positive identifier issues and accessibility issues.  In short, there is no mechanism fom receiving criminal records from each courthouse in the country let alone in real time.  Moreover as I noted before, there is no legislation that requires it.  The most accurate manner of getting information in many of the courthouses across the country is to physically go to the courthouse and search for records.  Numerous records still exist in filing cabinets and microfilm.  And here is the jaw dropping part; these are not parsley-populated counties in the middle of no-where.

The problem is only exacerbated with the desire to also screen individuals for any past mental health records and concerns.  Again, the difficulty is the lack of a centralized database that actually has that information.

I’m an advocate for background checks.  They are tremendously valuable.  It’s obviously the livelihood of my company.  However there are serious limitations to currently what can be done and any reformation discussion ought to take that into consideration.  It is a nice thought that we could within a reasonable time frame verify an individual’s criminal and mental health history.  Do not let it rock you to sleep.

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