Frequently, clients are presented with an “average” turnaround time (TAT) for completing county criminal searches that is relatively short (e.g., one or two days); however, this average is a “grand” average across all jurisdictions in the nation (over 3,500 counties) and in all candidate pools, the quality of which can vary with geography. With over 3,500 county jurisdictions and hundreds of potential rulings and dispositions, there are many possible reasons for a delay at the county level. Thus, the “grand” average is not necessarily a reliable predictor of search TAT for a given candidate in a given jurisdiction. We have developed and maintain a database of typical TATs in each jurisdiction that we use to manage searches that are in progress.
There is not a common national standard or, often, even a state-level standard for how different counties store, retrieve, or make their records available. The infrastructure and process may be uniform across an entire state, like all counties in Arkansas, and different in each county in another state, such as Illinois. In some counties, the public access terminal does not provide enough information to complete searches, necessitating access to paper files, and, in some instances, these files are held in off-site storage locations. Some courts require the physical intervention of the clerk or their staff and results are thus dependent upon the time that those staff are willing to expend; in others, the records are available electronically. (Note that clerk assistance delays can be longer during the summer vacation and holiday seasons.) Some courts limit the number of searches that can be completed by a given researcher on a given day or have limited numbers of public access terminals. In some jurisdictions, the need to clarify the legal language in the files can slow the process.
On top of these considerations is the legal requirement that we verify the accuracy of any search results, first and foremost by ensuring that they actually apply to the candidate of interest. Recently, some court systems have begun obscuring important confirmatory data such dates of birth and social security numbers in the public accessible records. Some courts are obscuring this information even in case records that they make available. In such circumstances, the absence of confirmatory identifiers necessarily slows down the process of making sure that searches are accurately completed. Again, this policy can vary by state and by jurisdiction within a given state.
Finally, the FCRA strictly requires that consumer screening reports be as accurate as possible. Accordingly, our ability to identify the cause of a delay in a particular case is severely constrained to avoid potentially indicating the presence of adverse information before that information has been found to be accurate and reportable.
Rest assured that we are keenly aware of the need to minimize TATs for criminal searches. We are in regular contact with the researchers for each jurisdiction, with particular focus on searches that are projected to exceed the typical TAT range in a given jurisdiction.
The information obtained through multijurisdictional criminal searches (i.e., National Criminal Record Indicator, Statewide, and State Repository), is fundamentally based upon county files, which, as discussed elsewhere, can vary from state to state and even from county to county within a given state, depending upon the quality of the record keeping. For Statewide and State Repository searches, the nature and accessibility of the public access systems in use can also be a factor. Standard Statewide searches are not available in all states, and some have only a State Repository search available for statewide files.
In every case where a state level search is a ‘Repository’ search (e.g., State Police Record or State Registry), the clerk’s direct involvement is required to verify consents prior to releasing the files. Delays in these cases can be as little as 5 days and as long as 6 or 8 weeks, depending upon the timeliness of the candidate’s completion of any special consents required, the state’s process, and the state’s current backlog.
When completing drug screening, there are three layers of activity including collection, laboratory analysis, and Medical Review Officer (MRO) reviews, as necessary. Factors that can affect TATs for drug screening at the collection level include:
• candidate delay in getting to the collection site;
• paperwork lost by the candidate or the lab;
• failure by the candidate to bring a photo ID;
• collection late in the day or at the end of the week; and
• the testing process itself (click here for more information).
At the lab level, testing is completed in batches of samples. Each batch is subject to rigorous quality control requirements that must be satisfied for the entire batch before results can be released. From our end, after a sample has entered the lab for testing, information regarding the progress of its testing is not available until the result is reported.
The MRO may need to contact the candidate to obtain additional information necessary to render a final opinion regarding the findings of the drug screening, such as a valid prescription for medication that may be affecting results. It is important to understand that the presence of a discrepancy does not necessarily mean there is a positive result until the MRO’s review is completed. The MRO must also maintain confidentiality about what the discrepancy might be prior to releasing a final result.
It is critically important that the screening results be complete and as accurate as possible. As with criminal searches, there are multiple factors that can affect the completion of drug testing. Because of the process, the ability to report on the progress of drug screening is severely constrained.
Some employers and many post-secondary schools outsource their verification to services that maintain databases of those records; in those cases, results can come back relatively quickly, often in the same day. In some instances, however, tracking down the correct employer identification number for these outsourced record systems can take time (e.g., for local branches of national businesses). In addition, many schools and employers still provide verbal verification, and most require a signed release form from the candidate prior to providing the verification, which can extend TAT depending upon the timeliness with which the candidate returns the required release.
The most common delays in these search categories are due to:
• missing or incomplete release forms;
• electronically signed release forms (for example, most high schools require hand-signed releases);
• failing to accurately identify the actual employer in the case of employees provided by staffing agencies or working as consultants, whether for another company or self-employed (a lot of time can be lost in figuring out for whom the candidate actually worked);
• failing to provide the full name of the school and the city and state in which they are located;
• failing to provide the name used while attending a school or as an employee (e.g., a maiden name); and
• failing to provide a telephone number for the Human Resources Department at a former employer (immediate supervisors are often not permitted to verify employment).
These reasons for delays are not as sensitive as the factors affecting the progress of criminal searches or drug screening and can generally be disclosed in status updates.