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Criminal Records – Investigating the Process of Running a Criminal Check
How often do you flip the news on, hoping to catch the weather report, only to hear about another story on “real life crime?” It seems that everywhere we look nowadays, from the television to the newspaper to the radio; we are subjected to these tales of horror. Except, unlike an engrossing book we can’t put down, these stories are happening all around us. From world headlines on down to our very own community, we are being victimized by criminals in every way imaginable.
We’ve all been made very aware that we’re living in dangerous times. To suspect the worst out of people until we know better is the norm in our world. Unfortunately, even the most cautious of sorts can be led to being swindled by a scam artist, trusting an unfit nanny to take care of their kids, or even to hiring a dishonest employee. One of the measures that are used to help protect against these types of crimes is a seemingly simple background search focusing on the criminal history of an individual.
There are many reasons why someone would want to run a criminal history on another person; however, they all center around one universal theme – safety. Protecting ourselves, our families, our businesses, and our finances, are our utmost concerns. Whether your company has regularly performed a criminal records search or is just starting this process – whether you’ve personally ever performed such a search before or not; there is specific information you need to know.
So, what is a criminal record and what, exactly, does it contain? In general, a criminal record contains identifying information, history of arrest, history of conviction, incarceration information, and any other possible criminal facts about the individual in question. Anything from minor misdemeanors on up could be found; however, there are a few things to clarify in the explanation of crime records. The breakdown is as follows:
Arrest Records include various law enforcement records of arrests. Even this has a wide meaning – some will only report arrests that led to convictions while others will report any and all arrests.
Criminal Court Records include criminal records from local, state, and federal courts.
Corrections Records include prison records that detail periods of incarceration.
State Criminal Repository Records include statewide records that are a compilation of arrest records, criminal court records, and correction records.
The largest misconception, and many people hold on to this belief, is that the United States has one national database that is a compilation of all criminal records everywhere – from the local level up to the federal level. This, simply, is not true.
The closest thing the U.S. has to a nationwide criminal database is the Interstate Identification Index, or the “Triple-I.”
This compilation is managed through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the FBI). The Triple-I will include criminal events such as: open arrest warrants, arrests, stolen property, missing persons, and dispositions regarding felonies and serious misdemeanors (which are defined as any crime that could result in one year or more of jail time). There are two things to understand about this database, however.
Only law enforcement personnel and agencies can access the Triple-I database. There is no nationwide criminal database available for the normal layperson.
If a county, city, or state does not report a crime to be entered into this database, it will not be found there. This means that many crimes that did not result in an incarceration in a federal prison will not be found in the Triple-I.
Law enforcement uses the Triple-I for a variety of reasons – from collecting a list of suspects for an unsolved crime to the prosecution of a charged individual. That’s great for them, but where does this leave the average American who needs to conduct a criminal history search? There are a few options – none of them are perfect on their own, but combined can, and will, give a fairly accurate picture of the person you’re investigating – if done properly. So how, or rather where, do you start?
Compile identifying information on the person you’re investigating. You’ll need, at a minimum, their full name, any prior surnames they may have had, and their date of birth. Be 100% positive you have their name spelled correctly. If you only have their name, you’ll have to do a little investigative work to get at least their birth date. Otherwise, you could end up with inaccurate criminal records that may not actually belong to the individual in question.
Ideas for locating additional information:
Talk to neighbors, coworkers, family members, or even past employers of the person in question.
Search online telephone directories as they often have the middle name, or at least the middle initial, noted with the address and phone data.
Utilize other online sources to try to gather identifying information such as their birth date and other names possibly used.
If possible, simply ask the person in question!
Obtain residential information on the person you’re investigating. You’ll need to know where they lived for the prior seven years. The cities and states at the very least, but again, the more complete data you have, the better.
Ideas for locating past addresses:
o Search one of the many free online services, often they’ll pop up every instance of the name that shows up in their database. This means if the person in question has moved around, each address associated with their name is likely to be in the database.
o If you do know the prior cities and states of their residences; you can search through past telephone directories, criss-cross directories (also called city directories and household directories) at the appropriate local libraries – and in some cases – online, for complete addresses of when the individual lived in that area.
o And again, if possible, you can always ask the individual you’re investigating.
Utilize free online sources to locate criminal records. Once you know the identifying information and the jurisdiction of the person you’re investigating, you can find the appropriate county, city, and state sites to access their public records. Realize that each state determines what is considered a “public” record, so you’ll have to brush up on the laws for the locales you’re investigating.
Also, it’s important to realize that a mere 25% to 35% of criminal data is available online, and this includes public data. So, while it’s a great place to start, it cannot be the basis of a complete investigation into your person’s criminal history. Realize, too, that many of the records will be missing key identifying information – such as date of birth, middle names, and/or social security numbers.
Pay for a criminal check to be done by an online investigation company. Most, if not all, online investigative organizations utilize the National Criminal File (NCF) as the database they search. This file is also the database most commonly researched for pre-employment background checks.
As you know by now, this file isn’t actually national; however, most states in the U.S. are included. Realize, however, that nearly all of the information that makes up the NCF comes from correction records only. Therefore, there are lots of possible holes for missing criminal activity – from county criminal records to state repositories. Anything considered a misdemeanor (an offense less serious than a felony) also will likely not be included. This means you could receive a clean report on an individual who, does indeed, have a criminal history.
Another drawback to the National Criminal File is the consistent lack of identifying information, just as with the online public records mentioned above. It is rare to find social security numbers or dates of birth to verify you definitely have the correct criminal history for your individual. The more common the name, the more unlikely it is that you’ll receive data that won’t have to be confirmed.
There are very few names in our country unique enough for this to not be an issue. Remember this, as you will have to dig deeper once you’ve received the report the NCF generated or the data you personally retrieved in your search of public criminal records.
Deeper how? Go to the source of the report. Meaning, you’ll have to consult the original data source the compilation came from. You can request a manual search from a fee-based investigation company, or you can do it yourself. However, it is the only sure way of verifying the information you have is correct. This means you’ll have to search civil records in the correct jurisdictions, and while you can do some of this online – as mentioned above; you may have to request the records in writing or go to the actual county that stores the data.
This is where you’ll be able to use the identifying information you collected. You can compare the date of birth, the social security number, full name, and the complete addresses of the person at this point. By doing this, you can rule out the inherent error probability with a common name.
One last thing to mention. If you uncover information that leads you to not hire the individual in question, you will have to abide by the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act). The FCRA mandates that when you pass someone over due to a criminal history report, it is their right by law to view the report you based your decision on. Make sure you follow this law or it could come back to haunt you in the form of a lawsuit.
Criminal history checks are an important facet in determining if an individual has a history in criminal activities. As with anything, gaining an accurate criminal report is largely dependent on what you put into it. With tenacity in acquiring complete identifying information, performing a fair and legal search, confirming whatever criminal data you do find; you will have an informative and accurate report at the end.
After all, the bottom line is determining that those you are seeking to protect – yourself, your family, your business, are safe from the criminal element.
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