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National Criminal Checks - Frequently Asked Questions

National criminal databases, which are also referred to as multi-jurisdictional databases, can be a key part of the background screening process, helping to catch unsuitable applicants by using a wider pool of information than is readily available for standard criminal history searches. However, many people are wary of these databases for various reasons. Some aren’t sure exactly what a national or multi-jurisdictional criminal database is. Others aren’t convinced that they need to use one. There may even be a few people out there who want to use one but can’t quite tell what makes a national criminal database good and what makes it merely passable. All these concerns are valid, but the fact remains that a credible and well-maintained national criminal database can reveal a much larger picture of an individual’s criminal history than a traditional search alone.

What is a national criminal database?

The first concern that needs to be addressed is the definition of a national criminal database. Though it sounds self-explanatory, there is more than meets the eye. A national criminal database compiles information from many different jurisdictional sources, including county courthouses, state court support agencies, state and local corrections departments, other government agencies, state sex offender registries, and federal security agencies. The purpose of this kind of database is to get as broad a look as possible into an applicant’s criminal history. National criminal databases are created and operated by two main groups: the federal government and private firms.

One example of the federal government operating a national criminal database is the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), operated by the FBI. This database helps law enforcement and criminal justice agencies with tasks such as finding fugitives, missing persons, and stolen property. However, this database is only available to appropriate government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels, and it is unavailable to most private employers.

Another example of a federally run national criminal database is the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This database is used specifically to provide information on potential buyers of firearms, and it checks to make sure that the buyer has not been convicted of a crime punishable by at least a year’s imprisonment, has never been involuntarily committed to a mental institution, has never been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces and so forth.

Just like most federally run criminal databases, neither the NICS nor the NCIC are available to the general public. That is where private firms step in. Private firms can create national criminal databases for use in the background reports they provide to clients. Sources, as mentioned earlier, can include state sex offender registries, Interpol’s Most Wanted, county court records and much more. No two private companies are alike when it comes to the sources available or even the number of sources available. Additionally, each company has a different method and timeline for loading the source information into their database. The quicker the sources are loaded, the better, because less lag time between the source and the appearance of records in the database increases the value of your national search. Similarly, and logically, you want the database with the most sources because it means that your search is broader and more likely to find the type of information that this search is designed to find.

Why should I use an instant search of a national criminal record database?

The second concern that needs to be addressed is the belief that a county criminal history search will do the same job as a national criminal database. The problem with this reasoning is that it assumes that the subject of the search does not leave the county or counties in which he lives and works. Realistically, in order to exercise due diligence, it should be assumed that if a person went somewhere with any frequency, he may have committed a crime there. By this logic, it can’t even be assumed that it is safe to simply perform a statewide criminal history search. State boundaries are often as easy to cross as county boundaries.

Furthermore, many national criminal databases include lists such as sex offender registries, national and international exclusion or “watch” lists and more. While each of these may be offered as separate service, they are all important tools in your hiring process and they need to be utilized. Depending on the provider, it may be cheaper to simply request their national criminal database rather than asking for each parceled out piece of the pie.

Are instant criminal searches accurate and thorough?

An instant criminal search is only as accurate as the state, local or federal agency reporting the data. We have limited control in their update frequency as it is set by and varies by each data source- this ranges from as frequently as daily to semi-annually.

With that said, data strength is one of many aspects that sets us apart from our competitors and we go to great lengths to acquire and maintain our data and pride ourselves on typically updating our database with new records within five days of receipt. Moreover, criminal records and subject demographics will vary based on the data source. For instance, some data sources provide full dates of birth while others may only provide year of birth or none at all. Information associated with criminal records also varies such as: plea, disposition, degree of offense, etc. In some cases, the data source provides obscure or very few details about the record.

I heard that the idea of a “National” criminal search is a myth. Is this true?

Some people argue that no truly national criminal database exists, while others doubt the effectiveness of these databases. Many of these criticisms include valid points, but the benefits of a good national criminal database can negate many of them.

A major criticism is that no central location exists for collection and storage of local, state, and federal criminal records meaning that there is no such thing as a national criminal database. Furthermore, some would say, even if there was a central location to collect all criminal records, it might not be kept up-to-date, and some records would probably not make it through the many levels of federal bureaucracy, such as in the case of the NCIC. While these claims are accurate, they miss the point and the relevant comparison. The point of a national database check is to perform a broad search; the relevant comparison is not to some ideal database holding every criminal record, but to either searching only the records available by searching one or several sets of county and state records or doing nothing at all.

 How current is the data I am searching?

Another argument against national criminal databases is that they may not be updated frequently, so the information may be outdated or even incorrect. The main thing to understand is that, yes, some databases may suffer from a lack of updates, but other providers make it a point to update their databases frequently.

We collect publicly available information from hundreds of data sources which include county courts, state administrative of the courts, state department of corrections, county courts and many more. We have limited control in their update frequency as it is set by and varies by each data source and, some sources only make information available on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. Providers should update most sources monthly and critical sources (such as sex offender registry records) at least twice a month at a minimum. It is a good idea to compare both the frequency of updates and the updating processes of different providers.

Data strength is one of many aspects that sets CIA apart from our competitors and we go to great lengths to acquire and maintain our data. We are continually evaluating our processes to ensure timely and quality results.

Does no records found mean that my subject does not have crimes on their record?

There are several reasons why 0 records might be found in a database search.

  • You entered incorrect information like a misspelled first or last name and/or the incorrect date of birth.

  • You entered a hyphenated name, middle initial in the first name box, a suffix such as JR, SR II, III, IV at the end of the last name or a special character in the first or last name box.

  • The search was conducted by name and date of birth; but available public records do not associate this name and/or date of birth with the record.

  • The subject searched is a minor and we do not search juvenile records.

  • You entered two first names. We are referring to names like Bobbie Sue, Amy Lynn and Billie Joe - please do not use them. Use only the first part of the two-part name as any extension of the name will be reported. Example, if you are searching Amy Lynn - Just use Amy and if there is a match with Amy Lynn it will come back.

  • You entered a nickname. Court records use the subject's full legal name, not nicknames.

  • You entered a middle name as a first name. Court records use the subject's first name, not a middle name that the subject goes by.

  • The record you might have expected to find is not within the agreed available covered jurisdictions. CIA, like other companies, offers limited criminal record coverage, and most likely the known record is not within our coverage acknowledged in our terms and conditions. The fact is, not all county, or municipal courts nationally will share their information with third party companies or do not have the records indexed in a searchable format

  • The record you might have expected to find is expunged or sealed by court order.

So, how big is your database?

Our CIA Super Search database currently contains over 2 billion criminal records derived from a comprehensive list of sources and ranks as the #1 criminal conviction database in the industry, based on comparison of the number of sources of conviction data for online criminal conviction databases that make their source lists publicly available.

Verification requirements

Federal law requires us and other consumer reporting agencies to verify criminal matches found during our instant database search directly with the source before reporting them. Is a verified search still an instant search? Yes and no. A criminal record search using our CIA Super Search VERIFY search option, will still return clear results back instantly, but when we discover criminal records that are a possible match, the system automatically changes the status to ‘in progress’ while our quality assurance department verifies each hit with the respective source. Depending on the number of hits and the response time from each search this can take a few days. Our average turnaround time for a verified search that initially has hits, is 1-3 business days.

Why are federal criminal records not included in an instant database search?

The federal courthouses do not make their criminal records available to private criminal database operators.

Do your reports provide date of birth and social security number information?

No, social security number information is private and is not publically available. However, date of birth information is commonly found in public records. Many of our criminal record data sources include date of birth in the information they provide.

 Do I get the same amount of detail as a live criminal record search at a court?

Yes, as any national criminal database result with a criminal record will be verified with the original source directly. The most important thing to understand when using a national criminal database is that these databases are not intended to replace a county criminal search. Instead, it is meant to provide employers with a more affordable way to include a broad view search at a first step in the screening process.

Clear Investigative Advantage will be happy to consult with your ministry or organization in order to determine the best background searches for your individual needs. Discounts are only available to organizations that sign up via the Lifeway website. Additional background screening products are available after sign up.

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Questions about Background Checks Products and Pricing? Call us at 800.464.2799.

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