Because I run a background screening company, you might be surprised when I confess that there’s a huge inherent flaw in background screening.
The flaw isn’t in our services or our people, both of which are remarkably thorough. The problem is that a background screening captures a moment in time. Whether you screen someone as part of the pre-employment process or check on their background a decade after you’ve hired them, even the most effective background screening can only report on what’s on record at that moment.
The day after you conduct that screening, your employee or volunteer could get arrested for driving after two dozen beers or molesting someone, and you’d have no way of knowing about it.
Some organizations schedule follow-up screening at regular intervals. That’s a great idea, but once again, what if something happens in the interim? Say a school bus driver passes a background check in July, but gets picked up on a suspected DUI in Florida over Christmas break. You might not hear about it until his next screening — and during that time, you’re continuing to entrust him with the safety of young children.
Until now, the time between background checks created a potentially dangerous gap for employers and organizations that depend on volunteers, such as youth sports organizations. It’s something our team has long recognized, and after a significant amount of thought, discussion, and testing, we launched a service closes that gap, minimizing the potential that someone who has been accused of criminal acts can escape notice.
It’s called ArrestAlert, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s a game-changer for our industry. We’ve developed an automated system integrated with more than 90 percent of local and county jails across the United States. When an arrestee is booked into the jail’s system, ArrestAlert compares the name and other identifying details to those of our clients’ employees or volunteers. If there’s a match, ArrestAlert instantly sends a text alert to the client contact, who can then log in and obtain the details.
In the case of our bus driver, within minutes of his being booked into the Florida jail, the school district’s superintendent (or other contact person) receives a text message stating that the driver had been arrested. The superintendent could then log into the system to verify that it was in fact the bus driver, where he had been arrested, and the nature of the charges.
We recognize that a cornerstone of America’s judicial system is individuals are presumed innocent until found guilty, and we don’t intend for ArrestAlert to shortchange anyone’s due process. In this case, if the driver didn’t own up to the arrest, the superintendent could ask him about it and perhaps suspend him while the matter went through the legal system. It’s the same thing a superintendent might do if a community member called with news that the employee had been arrested. The superintendent wouldn’t terminate an employee based on an arrest report alone, but might take steps to remove them from a position of responsibility until the case was resolved.
Suppose you’re the president of the local youth soccer club and one of your volunteer coaches gets arrested for soliciting a minor while on South Padre Island over spring break. With traditional background screening, you might never be made aware of the matter unless you ordered another background check somewhere down the road. With ArrestAlert, you’d know within minutes, and you could take immediate action to protect the children for whom you’re legally responsible.
In addition, one of the realities of today’s legal system is that arrests for serious matters are often pled down to lesser offenses. So an arrest for something that would create legitimate concern for an employer or a volunteer organization might result in a conviction for something as vague as Disorderly Conduct. We’ve seen real cases where people with arrests for sex crimes involving children have pled to lesser offenses, subsequently passed other companies’ background screenings, and obtained employment or volunteer roles working with youngsters or teens. With ArrestAlert, the employer or organization would be made aware of the actual reason for the arrest at the time it occurs.
No system of screening can cover 100 percent of potential situations, but Arrest Alert is a powerful tool that allows employers and organizations that are already obtaining screenings a way to close the gap and protect vulnerable people from those who might harm them.
Mike McCarty is CEO of Danville-based Safe Hiring Solutions.