I’ve been warning employers, schools, nonprofits, and others about the dangers of relying on the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Crime Records Service criminal history database for years. Our 2008 study of DPS’ records found that DPS’ records were missing more than one-third of the criminal cases included in our sample – including one-third of the convictions that place offenders on Texas’ Death Row.
DPS’ own audit earlier this year found that one in four arrests was not reported to DPS in 2009. Following up on that audit, Brian New, an investigative reporter with San Antonio CBS affiliate KENS 5, interviewed me about how to conduct a more reliable background check.
The story ends with my interview:
Regardless of the reason why, Mike Coffey, a human resource consultant for the Imperative Information Group, said he advises his clients not to rely on the state.
“We have been conditioned to think we are buying something from the state, so this has got to be the best there is,” Coffey said.
But he says the state’s database is not the best, which is why when Coffey runs a criminal background check he searches every county, individually, where the person has lived and worked.
It takes more time and more money, but if murder records are not in the state’s database, Coffey said just think what else might be missing.
“If all the backgrounds you run are with DPS, you are going to have something bad happen eventually,” he said.
This particular story was focused on Texas DPS’ records but most state criminal records repositories are equally unreliable. Unfortunatley, many employers then turn to so-called national criminal records databases believing them to be reliable sources of criminal records and not understanding that these databases are built upon the records provided by the states. This means that in Texas, you are likely to miss one in three criminal offenses (including capital murder) and in other states like California, which doesn’t allow access to their state criminal records repository, you are likely to miss all of the records if you rely only on a “national” database search (we call them multijurisdictional criminal records databases – “national” oversells their quality).
As is often the case, the hard way is the best way. A reliable criminal background check will use the state and multijurisdictional criminal records databases as indicators of possible criminal records but will rely on live searches of county criminal records as the primary source of information.