The FBI criminal record database is an exhaustive collection of all evil deeds perpetrated by our nation’s criminals. The “bad guys” are immortalized in these files, their photos and criminal resumes easily accessible by submitting a single query into the computer. If there is dirt to be found on a person, it will be unearthed by an FBI database search.
That’s how the database is portrayed in crime shows and movies, but the reality is not as black and white. Those shows and their portrayal of the FBI criminal record database (NCIC) are purely fictionalized.
The truth is, the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) is riddled with potential inaccurate and incomplete criminal record data. In fact, employers concerned with its porous nature prompted the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study into the accuracy and completeness of NCIC’s data, and the results are now available in the office’s February 2015 report “GAO-15-162 (accessible here http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-162).
What did the GAO Report find?
Authorized employers can use information from FBI criminal history record checks to assess a person’s suitability for employment or to obtain a license, but how reliable is that information? States primarily create and maintain criminal history records, but the FBI facilitates the interstate sharing of these records for criminal and non-criminal-justice purposes. It is problematic that not all states submit data to the FBI’s database, and even in the states that do, the data provided is often incomplete (Download our white paper to see how many states have incomplete records).
However, there has been improvement over the past nine years. From 2006 through 2012, states reported making progress in providing complete criminal history records to the FBI—records that include the arrest and the final disposition of the arrest. GAO reports that the number of states providing has increased, but there are still many states providing less than 75% of their arrest records with the final dispositions.
The GAO recommended a number of changes be implemented by the FBI Advisory Policy Board, the Director of the FBI, and the Office of Personnel Management. The fact remains, however, that the FBI database is presently only perfect on the big screen.
Employers reviewing criminal background checks are reminded that those checks are only one tool that should be used in the hiring process, and should not be the sole determinant of an applicant’s suitability for employment.
For more information on the GAO’s findings, please read Accurate Background’s white paper “FBI Criminal Record Information – Improved, but Far from Perfect. This white paper analyzes the results of the GAO’s study and the challenges employers must keep in mind when considering information acquired through the FBI criminal record database.
This white paper will provide greater insight into:
- Current statistics on the accuracy and completeness of NCIC's data
- Remaining challenges for state criminal justice agencies
- The difference between NCIC and Criminal Record Checks through CRAs
- Important reminders for employers