For county criminal searches where you provide turnaround times of less than a day, what kinds of sources are you using?

By Michael Klazema on 12/12/2012

As members of the background screening industry, we know that some information about our industry, presented as facts, can actually be subjective opinion. In an attempt to help every business get the answers they need when choosing a background screening provider, we want to provide all of you with some questions you may not have known you had to ask of any prospective group of background screening vendors.

For county criminal searches where you provide turnaround times of less than a day, what kinds of sources are you using?
The most common method for providing a county criminal search in under a day is using an Online Court Interface, or OCI, to replace physical searches. Typically these are most likely to have the same results as a physical search. But that’s not always true. So, if they are using an OCI, ask these additional questions:

  • How many years of data are available through the interfaces? Some of the OCIs are very new and have not loaded old data, meaning that they only have a few years available. will make sure that the OCI has the type and breadth of information we need and if it doesn’t we will use a physical search. This approach, or one that at least is aware of the gaps and has methods of filling them in, is ideal. Using OCIs that only go back a few years instead of using a physical search that can go back at least 7 years can put some employers at risk if they are in an industry with regulated job classes requiring a reasonable effort to search for certain barrier crimes.
  • Does the OCI provide enough identifiers? In some cases, such as Sacramento County, California, the OCI won’t provide full identification of the person that the records are about. This means that if the OCI is used, the researcher can't always verify that the person holding the record is actually the same as the person that is being searched for. To be fair, no method is perfect as there is no unique identifier that is put with public records (SSNs have been deemed too private to include on publically available information). But, identifiers like the full date of birth can be invaluable and can help a researcher tell the difference between John Smith and John Smith, Jr. – and these identifiers are available if a physical search is performed instead of using these OCIs.
  • Does the OCI provide disposition and charge information? Some OCIs, including Los Angeles County, California, may have records that withhold disposition and charge information. Without this information, companies may report records of dismissed prosecutions (which can be difficult or illegal to use in hiring decisions) instead of conviction records. Again, if the OCI lacks this type of information, the company should preferably be conducting a physical search to ensure that they have all of the information necessary.
  • Is the OCI real-time, and if not, how often do you update the interface? Most OCIs are real-time, meaning that no manual updates have to be done to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date data. However, there are some that aren’t, including Cook County, Illinois, where Chicago is located. If the Cook County information is updated frequently, this isn’t such a problem. But if it’s only updated once every month, you could be missing some important hits or finding expunged records.

To be clear, not all OCIs are bad. But, you have to be confident that your screening company is using them properly, preferably only using OCIs that are as good as or better than a standard physical search. There are plenty of counties that have OCIs that meet this standard.

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