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Criminal Checks:
Cost Versus Risk

By Glenn Hammer
Criminal Checks: Cost Versus Risk
Consider the old adage, "A job worth doing is worth doing right." Conducting Criminal Record Searches as part of a careful employment screening process is an investment in your organization's human capital. Dividends will include reduced turnover with its attendant recruiting and training costs, reduced employee dishonesty losses, and a safer workplace -- to name but a few. Using Criminal Record Searches to realize these benefits requires accurate, current results. National or Statewide Databases, while seductively inexpensive, cannot provide these benefits.

A complete criminal history is not stored on a single database. Criminal records are stored at different locales depending on the jurisdiction and type of crime committed. These different locations generally do not share records; therefore, it is necessary to go to each site separately to obtain records.
Cost Vs. Quality
Organizations considering the sort of background checks to conduct must make educated trade offs on budget versus risk. The proper background check is one that minimizes the risk of missed criminal records because searches were not run in the necessary jurisdictions (i.e. criminal records exist in counties where searches were not run) or not run for the type of crimes (i.e. records of federal crimes or sex offenses).

We Recommend - From many years of experience and thousands of background checks, A Matter of Fact recommends the following criminal search solution as the strongest (the minimum risk of missing criminal records) and most practical (budget-wise): Criminal Record Searches of the applicant's residence, work and school locales for Counties, Federal Districts, and State Sex Offender Registries. Organizations hiring individuals providing health care should, in addition, run Medicaid Sanctions. Additionally, Nationwide and Statewide Criminal Database Searches, National Wants and Warrants, and Global Homeland Security Searches are run to check for records outside the normal geographical target.

Budgetary Considerations
Every organization is unique with differing needs and budgets; if the budget does not allow this level of thoroughness, reduce the cost and increase the risk of missing criminal histories by dropping searches until you reach the target budget. Realize that there are increased risks with smaller budgets.

Help us help you get the most from your money. Our clients may set a price threshold for their background checks. We then consult with each of our clients to determine which criminal searches to conduct to be as thorough as possible within that client’s budget.

Federal Courts hold the records of federal crimes committed within certain districts. Federal crimes include crimes in which a federal law has been broken, crimes that cross state boundaries, or crimes committed on federal property. A typical background check would search those federal court districts in which the applicant has lived, worked, or gone to school. For more see Federal Criminal Records Check.

County Courts contain the records of felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions committed within a given county. Felonies are―generally speaking―crimes punishable by one or more years of jail time, whereas misdemeanors and infractions are minor crimes punishable by a fine or minimal jail time. Each state is divided geographically into counties. Counties keep their own criminal records and, for the most part, do not share records with other counties. For this reason, counties are checked individually for crimes committed in that county. For more information, see County Criminal Record Checks.

Court Record Accessibility Varies - While most court records are very easily accessible, some courts have policies and procedures that make retrieving records more difficult. Some courts charge fees for accessing records. Others limit the number of searches permitted, or mask some of the information on the records. Some courts require that a court clerk retrieve the information. These procedures and policies are constantly changing and can have an adverse affect on the turnaround time of results. When court clerks are required to do the searches, for example, they do so at their own pace, sometimes taking longer to retrieve information. This is especially true when criminal convictions are found and case documents need to be pulled.

Statewide Criminal Databases are compiled from various sources, including Prior Criminal Record Searches, County Criminal databases, Department of Corrections, Administration of the Court, and State Sex Offender Registries. Multistate Criminal Databases are likewise compiled from similar sources. However, this does not imply that these are complete criminal history repositories. As mentioned before, there is no database available that contains a complete criminal history. While these database searches gather information from a variety of sources, they are notoriously incomplete and out of date. Databases are dependent on their sources for current information. This makes it very difficult to maintain an up-to-date database. Databases are also subject to court policies and procedures. Courts whose access is limited are more likely to be omitted from the database. For more see 'Statewide' Criminal Records Check and 'Nationwide' Criminal Database Check.

Databases cannot be considered complete background checks. They can, however, be a tool in making a background check more thorough. Both Statewide and Multistate Criminal Database checks help to widen the search area covered by the criminal portion of a comprehensive background check.

Other databases that may be more complete but only contain a specific type of offense or crime are Medicaid Sanction searches and Sex Offender Registry searches. Sex Offender Registries, for example, are limited to a very specific type of crime and are thus very incomplete as a criminal record search. For more see Medicaid Sanctions and Sex Offender Registry Check.

National Wants and Warrants
This search is a check of a national database for outstanding warrants. Most of the offenses on this database are extraditable offenses. As these are warrants, this search does NOT provide convictions and does not necessarily mean that the applicant is guilty of anything. For more see, National Wants and Warrants Search.

Global Homeland Security
A Global Homeland Security Search checks a compilation of domestic and international sanctions lists. Individuals or organizations included on these lists may be involved in terrorist activities, money laundering, illegal imports, fraud against government agencies, violation of federal banking regulations, drug trafficking, etc. This search was developed as a response to The Patriot Act and the War on Terror. For more see Global Homeland Security Search

This information is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice.

Federal, state and local laws and regulations are rapidly evolving regarding employer inquiries into and use of applicant/employee criminal records. See Background Check Laws and Regulations and Employment Background Check Blog. It is the employer's responsibility to stay current with changing legal requirements and implement appropriate policies and procedures.

Related Resources

The Author
Glenn Hammer, founder of A Matter of Fact, a California-based employment background check firm. www.amof.info