Criminal Background Checks: Criminal Conviction Data

imgres-1You’ve already learned in our last article about why it’s a good idea to use criminal records to screen applicants. Now let’s touch on details of how criminal convictions are made, and where we find the criminal conviction data.

Learning about what a conviction actually is and how it comes to be can help you get the most out of a detailed and thorough employee screening program.  Contrary to popular belief, a conviction doesn’t begin in the courtroom, or even in jail. Once the crime has been committed—whether in a home, at a park or at a local bar—the conviction process has began.

As mentioned in the first article, in any community there are people motivated to commit crimes. Convictions grow from these criminal offenses. Unfortunately, what most people don’t know is that a majority of crimes go unreported and unnoticed. The difference between reported crime and an actual crime rates is known by criminologists as the “dark figure” of crime.  Typically victims are weary to report crimes because they are ashamed, they have little faith in the legal system, or they simply do not realize they’ve been victimized.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics has estimated that 52% of violent crime went unreported from 1996 to 2010.  (http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/vnrp0610.pdf)

Even after the crime has been reported, it remains far from a conviction. Some of the reported crimes will never be investigated.

Even after being reported, a crime is still far from a conviction. Some reported crimes will never reach investigation.  Many of the crimes that are investigated never result in an ID of the person responsible. Once a suspect has been ID’d, the police present the case to a prosecutor. In many instances, the prosecutor will decline to charge the case. There will never be a conviction under any of these circumstances.

Even after being charged and prosecuted, many cases are pled to a lesser offense. Once taken to trial, there is always a chance of an acquittal. This entire sequence means less than 10 convictions are handed down for every thousand criminal offenses. If your applicant has a conviction on their record, it means they have passed through all of these obstacles It’s important you don’t dismiss a conviction as something that’s “not that big of a deal” because it’s their only mistake. The reality of the matter is probably just the opposite. . In most cases, the conviction was actually a plea to a lesser charge.

Once a conviction is created, where does it go? The short answer to this question is a courthouse. Every courthouse holds conviction records at their respective jurisdictional level. If you’re looking for state court convictions you can search for these records online. Federal records are found at the federal court and city or municipal records are at the city court. Most courts don’t communicate their convictions with each other.

There are national databases that combine some criminal records and state maintained registries. These are excellent resources for background checks because they are fast and fairly inexpensive. Although they are useful, beware that these records are often incomplete.

Criminal Background Checks: How to Confront the Criminal Mindset at Your Workplace

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This post is part one of a three part series that will examine the role of background checks and reports in todays work environment.

If humans work for you, then there is a need for predictors of malice and violence. The pattern of past behavior is the best predictor of future human behavior. Criminal background checks that make you aware of behavior traits such as these, ought to be at the beginning of your hiring processes. They should also be incorporated during promotion and retention decisions. I am a ten year veteran policeman in a large metropolitan community and what I’ve learned is that human beings do have a capacity to do great things. The flipside is that they also have a capacity to do irreparable acts of evil. Just look to Sandy Hook Elementary for an example.

The root of the issue is simple. The capacity for employees at any establishment to harm that company through evil actions is a catalyst. In working with the National Screening Bureau and consulting with many companies to establish drug-free workplaces and background checking procedures, I’ve learned that many of our employers in the workforce do not understand the risk. Sometimes it is easier to ignore the hazard at the workplace, hiding under complacency of dumb luck. I’ll call this the Ostrich Syndrome, for obvious reason.  “It’s never happened here before” you might say. But this is ineffective leadership and poor logic at best. This can also be a de-motivator for instituting business best practices in screening hopefuls for the company. The Ostrich Syndrome has no place in a modern-day, safety-oriented business culture of superiority.

Crimes and illicit behavior is draped with a whole host of problems directly related to and impact performance.  Abuse of worker’s compensation, drug abuse, attendance, morale, misuse of company property, time theft, and corporate integrity all have a solid connection to crime.  An employee that is involved in criminal activity is more than likely harming the workplace in more than one of these other related areas.  Company brilliance begins with generating a minimum standard for the new employee in order to build a culture that will push employees to maximum development of production and talent.  Specialized ancillary searches of motor vehicle reports, criminal record inquiries and registered sex offender databases are noble place to begin your searching.

Given our current corporate environment being very debatable in nature, the competitive landscape of business, and our righteous desire for stability in the workplace, employers may want to contemplate background screening as a tool with wider use in managing its workforce. For the most part, companies do understand the key role criminal background screenings play in pre-employment background checks. Of course, provided the screening is consistent with business necessity and job-related, businesses should not place boundaries on themselves in searching for past patterns of poor behavior.

It stands to reason that targeted background checks will add value to constant efforts to manage risk. Running checks annually and rescreening, are excellent ways to do this and they are gaining more speed across all businesses.  Employers are even finding convictions after employment on some of their workers. They are finding this to be more helpful to manage risk throughout their company than even pre-hire convictions.  Law enforcement generally does not have cause to report crimes of employees to their employer. But as a police officer, it is amazing to arrest and charge many delinquents who already have a job. Most employees convicted or charged of crimes have zero motivation to report their crimes to their supervisor. When every workplace is full of victims and treasures, do you think an employee really doesn’t act on their criminal instincts when they are at the office?  Background checks are extremely valuable for employees, contractors, and even volunteers in schools and churches.  Some might not think so, but volunteers have the same likelihood for harming your organization and/or the people in your organization.

Have some important personnel decisions coming up? Cast some light on them by running background checks. Considering several employees for promotion? Do background checks on them!  It will most definitely shed light on the process.  You may have an employee that’s troubled and is not performing to standards?  Screen him!  In doing so you may uncover a cause for the modest performance and be able to address it properly within your company procedures, or you might find a debarring conviction that will allow you to dismiss the employee with just cause. Thus, protecting your company and its employees.  Many different reasons can surface, so I recommend businesses make sure their authorization for background checks is “evergreen.” Also ensuring applicants comprehend that the employer can run these checks anytime it is deemed appropriate.

To promote safe work environments, the most important thing companies can do is adopt the attitude that theft and violence are actual hazards in the workplace and something must be done about it.  When the cultural shift in the hearts of business owners takes place, consistently I have seen the safety of their association begin to advance for the better.

In part two of this three part series, we will discuss the basics of criminal convictions, the wide variety of accessible background checks that are available, and the correct and incorrect ways to search.

dan

Dan Oblinger is the Training Director for the National Screening Bureau, a leading provider of pre-employment screening, drug-free workplace programs, and I9 compliance services.   He is a ten year veteran of a large metropolitan police department with assignments as a patrol officer, patrol supervisor, undercover detective, crime reduction specialist, drugged driving enforcement investigator, and hostage negotiator.  He has extensive training and experience in crime analysis, criminal identification and apprehension, drug influence, and corporate safety.