A few years back, a gathering of Girl Scout directors in a Midwest state met with a representative with their state police about the accuracy of the state police criminal records. The state police representative told the crowd that his records were only 8 percent accurate. A couple of years later, the largest newspaper in the state ran 500 known criminals through the state police database. Less than 30 percent of the known criminals were reported as having records by the state police. Even with the known deficiencies, this search was the only one required by the state for volunteer leaders working with children.
While it may be a common belief that a state police organization has all records in its state, this is not the case. Most states rely on the local police departments to report each person they have fingerprinted. Here is where the problem lies – not all persons arrested or cited for a crime get fingerprinted. And, IF the person gets fingerprinted, not all records are reported to the state police. And, IF the records are reported, the state police may never be notified of the results after the arrest.
In states like Louisiana, we may find an arrest in state police records that never made its way to court. Or, records are found in multiple parishes (we’re still holding out on calling them counties!) that never would have been searched just by running a one parish court search. On the flip side, we may find information in a parish court search that never showed up in the state police records. There is no uniform perfect system.
Therefore, the decision in which most companies wrestle is whether or not to depend solely on the state police records for a background check. Mix in factors such as turnaround time, cost, state audit requirements, thoroughness, potential public relations issues, potential risk to the company and potential risk to others and the decision becomes even more complex. However, there is an additional option to help cover the holes found in fingerprint only searches.
County or parish court searches generally provide more detail on cases in that particular jurisdiction than a state police search. We always recommend adding a county court search due to the completeness of the information generally found when searching at the local level. This is a cost effective method for increasing your thoroughness when added to the state police searches.
Finally, consider the costs involved. Other than the belief that a state police search includes every record from everywhere in the state, the most common reason I hear for not adding a county search is the cost. State police searches are not usually cheap (state charges range from $3-$68). Even though a county search is very affordable, adding an expense to a state police background check may keep you from choosing the most thorough options. But, consider the what ifs.
What if a crime could have been prevented at your organization if a more thorough search would have been run? The upfront cost would pale in comparison to the cost to your company later. Hiring the wrong person can hurt others, smear your organization’s reputation, and do great damage to the finances.