National Criminal Database Check: The Pros and Cons


Ensuring you're hiring the right person for the job is crucial as an employer. One way to do this is by conducting a criminal background check on potential employees. As part of your criminal background check, the national criminal database is one tool many employers utilize. However, like any tool, it has its pros and cons. 

What is a National Criminal Database Check?

This database check is a great starting point to see red flags that can be further investigated. However, employers should be cautious when using databases as they may not always tell the whole story. 

While county-level criminal searches are where background screening starts, a national criminal database check is a great secondary measure. These checks use public databases nationwide to gather information on your candidate’s criminal activity from federal databases, corrections departments, watch lists, and more. This database doesn’t cover every single county in the United States, but it can lead background screening professionals to records in counties where your candidate has not held a residence.

Here are some pros and cons of national criminal record databases and how they should be used. 


Identifying records

The national criminal database can help employers identify candidates’ criminal records. This can be particularly useful for positions involving vulnerable populations, such as children or the elderly. It can also help protect the company from liability if an employee with a criminal record commits a crime while on the job. With this database search, you can reveal information about your candidate on a large scale. 

Large geographical check

Your candidate has likely moved in their lifetime. A national criminal database check can reveal criminal history from different states rather than just investigate the state or county they currently live in. These databases can reveal criminal activity on vacations or trips even if they haven't moved. Conducting this database search can be convenient as you can gather information from federal, state, and county levels with one search. 

Turnaround time

When conducting a national criminal database check, raw data populates instantly. However, the turnaround time can range from 5 minutes to 2 days because sorting through the records and investigating them is a manual process. It involves personally contacting the clerks and courthouses and waiting for their response. For your hiring and background screening process, it’s important to take these wait times into account.


Incomplete Records

There are some potential drawbacks to using the national criminal database. For one, databases may not be completely up-to-date or accurate. Criminal records may not appear in a database, or there may be errors in the records that do appear. For instance, if there is a record that an arrest occurred, does that mean the person was indicted? Or if a person was charged with a felony, did that charge get reduced later on? With records that can change or have multiple parts, it is vital that you have the complete and current picture.  

Most recorded information is updated by a clerk at the courthouse, so human errors and lack of resources can keep records from being updated. This can affect the validity of information as well as turnaround times.

With potential inaccuracies, this can lead to a false sense of security for employers who rely solely on the database for background checks. And because there is not just one database, continuity can be lost. Some jurisdictions may update their information monthly, while some only annually. It is important to note that your business is liable if you use outdated information in your hiring decision under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Many database searches match records by name only, and if that name is common, it can result in a record that does not belong to your candidate but rather a different person by the same name. Your company is responsible for disclosing to your candidates your use of these records in your hiring process. If an employer uses these records based on the name match and the record does not belong to the candidate, companies can face legal trouble, so it is important to have a thorough screening process.


Another concern is the potential for discrimination. Databases contain information on a large number of people, many of whom may have been arrested but never convicted of a crime. If employers use this information to disqualify candidates with any criminal history automatically, they may be unfairly discriminating against individuals falsely accused or rehabilitated. 

Location Gaps

Not all departments will publicize their data, which can create gaps in an applicant’s criminal history if you only conduct a national criminal database search. Your candidate may have moved a lot, and you could be unable to verify that they committed a serious crime in one of their places of residence if the information doesn’t exist on the national database. 

Most counties have County Seats, which are the main Upper and Lower Courthouses that exist in a county. But when a town’s population is high enough, they may have their own courts, which don’t necessarily report their records to the main county database.

For example, Virginia has many independent cities that are their own jurisdiction, but they share records with the county they are situated closest to. Franklin City in VA shares records with Suffolk County, so when records are populated in the National Criminal Database search, you will only receive records from the county level. Having a professional background screening service like Risk Assessment Group makes sure that the city results do not get overlooked, and our specialists will specifically request them to complete the background check.

How to make sure you are getting the best information

Overall, using the national criminal database as part of a comprehensive background check can be helpful to employers. However, it's better to use it with other screening methods and be aware of its limitations. Accredited companies like Risk Assessment Group take a fair and balanced approach to background screening by using national criminal database searches in conjunction with other criminal screening measures.

Having a trusted pre-employment background screening company on your side can streamline your hiring process and save you time in the long run. Risk Assessment Group’s team of criminal researchers has direct access to those gathering the information and, in addition to using the national criminal database, use manual searches at the county level to investigate your candidates further.

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