All background screening companies and consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) require a national criminal database solution. A national database search is an essential element of a comprehensive pre-employment background check. While the tried and true method of county criminal record searches are considered to be the gold standard, they only reveal criminal activity in a person’s current and past counties. People move around; a lot. Performing a national criminal records search before the typical county search reveals all counties that must be searched for an individual to compile a complete background check.
And yet, national database searches have earned a reputation for being aggravatingly inconsistent, incomplete, time-consuming, and in many cases, inaccurate. Large enterprise CRAs have invested large sums to create their own solutions to overcome these issues and deliver reliable national criminal search results.
The poor quality of most commercially available national criminal database solutions (and the poor quality of their results) puts mid-sized and smaller background screening companies at a competitive disadvantage.
Making matters worse, the apparent pain of integrating a new solution — and including customers’ custom reporting requirements — causes many smaller and mid-sized background screening firms to feel “locked-in” to their current national criminal database provider, regardless of its shortcomings.
Over the two-plus decades InformData has been involved in the criminal background screening industry, we’ve listened to countless complaints from CRAs about the quality of the national criminal database solutions currently on the market or the cost to maintain their own solution.
Generally, these complaints fall into one or more of five categories:
1. Insufficient filtering options
National criminal background search results are instantaneous. Sifting through those results, on the other hand, consumes many more hours. It’s like web searches back in 1996. There’s a reason the Internet’s first search engine was called Yahoo!... the result you wanted was in there somewhere… and people often yelled out the search engine’s name when they found what they were looking for. Unfortunately, many national criminal database solutions lack sufficient filtering options designed to help CRAs save time and effort.
The typical national criminal background search comes back in a giant unfiltered data block, much of it useless noise — partial names, missing birth dates, minor charges, and other records that have no value to CRAs or their end-users and create wild goose chases. Background screening companies must dedicate resources to laboriously picking through all this noise to find relevant information — resources that might be better applied to more high-value tasks. (Not to mention that qualified labor is in short supply as of late.)
2. Little flexibility and no customization
Most CRAs and their end-users would like the ability to choose the type of offenses they see, set time parameters, and otherwise customize their national criminal database search results to match their end-users’ preferences.
All too frequently, however, the leading national criminal records data providers will tell you, “The data is the data.” It’s up to you as a background screening company to interpret and format the results the way you and your clients require them.
3. Integrations are too difficult
One of the primary reasons CRAs decide not to switch national criminal database vendors is because, as they see it, switching poses serious risks.
Most providers fail to offer tools to integrate their solutions with third-party or proprietary technology platforms easily. Rather than endure a lengthy and potentially buggy integration process (with no help from their vendor), background screening firms opt to stick with “the devil they know.”
4. Absolutely no transparency
Where does your national criminal database vendor’s data come from? You would think this would be a simple question to answer, but the typical national criminal records database is a black box. Rather than revealing the data’s source so you can verify them, vendors obscure them.
As a criminal background screening company, you’re never sure just how much you can trust your national criminal database solution’s accuracy. This can send you off on wasteful wild-goose chases pursuing records that either can’t be reported or are of no interest to your customers.
5. Spotty coverage
You can’t expect any national criminal database solution to cover absolutely every arrest and conviction that has occurred throughout the entire United States. That would be impossible — especially considering that numerous courts still haven’t made their records available online. Nevertheless, your national database solution should cover enough of the country to make a nationwide search worth your while.
The more records available in a national database, the better it is for a CRA if those records can be filtered properly. Employers try to avoid making risky hiring decisions based on incomplete and out-of-date information at all costs. Failing to find relevant records can damage your reputation with these customers.
Is a Better National Criminal Database Solution Out There?
In today’s article, we’ve covered five reasons why the national criminal database products currently available in the marketplace fail to both help CRAs compete and meet employer's expectations.
Ultimately, an ideal national criminal database solution would provide unlimited filtering options and customizations, easy integrations, complete transparency and 100% national database coverage. While this is nearly impossible to achieve, there is one that gets CRAs close.