Op-Ed: Access to National Background Check System Needed

Problems with local records searches, delays in accessing FBI database create challenge for private security industry

The most significant issue facing the security officer sector today is background check standardization. Our country has no national background check system to ensure all private security officer personnel can be quickly vetted and screened. Information about arrests and convictions are available in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), but those computerized records are only available to law enforcement except in select states such as Florida and Arizona. State-wide background checking information does not go far enough. We need a clearinghouse similar to the banking industry. The reality is that this system is broken, and it's time for a radical change.

Private security officers provide a primary line of defense for much of the country, securing countless lives and tens of thousands of important sites each and every day. As the largest American owned security officer services' firm, our company was called to testify by the United States House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. We were queried on our experience using the criminal history database of the FBI to help screen applicants as well as our views on the Attorney General's June 2006 Report on Criminal History Background Checks.

Today, when we seek to hire security personnel, we have to conduct state-wide or county-by-county and court-by-court criminal record checks. In our global world, where anyone can jump on a plane or drive five states away in a few hours, statewide information is of very limited value. Without timely access to the records of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, no investigation of security personnel can be considered complete.

The Attorney General's Report concluded that a comprehensive and reliable criminal history background check cannot be accomplished without timely access to the records of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I agree whole heartedly with that statement. Our experience has proved that to be true.

Without access to federal records, the only records available to an employer are those in the states and their political subdivisions, where the records are typically kept at the courthouse in each county. Since there is no practical way to check all the counties for every employee, employers usually request a record check in the counties in which the applicant says they have recently lived or worked. This leaves the employer blind to any criminal history records in states for which the applicant failed to disclose.

There are commercial databases that aggregate criminal history information from multiple states but these are not truly national because not all states, courts, or agencies make their records available. Moreover, these databases are only updated periodically and, thus, may lack current data. These commercial databases are not adequate substitutes for information contained in the FBI-maintained database.

Congress -- with the support of many individuals in the security industry -- acted in good faith to provide private security officer employers with access to that federal database in 2004. Unfortunately, in doing so, Congress required that the employers always go through the state identification bureaus in order to get that access. In other words, we must submit the employee information to the state bureau, which then forwards the request to the federal level. If the FBI record check is completed, the results come back to the state, which then notifies the employer.

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