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When a National Criminal Database isn’t a National Criminal Database

Posted on 12/27/11 9:30 PM

Many background screening companies tout a national criminal database, which to many seems like the ability to access one single nationwide database full of criminal records. Unfortunately, such a database does not exist. Let’s take a look at the truth behind National Criminal Databases.

The federal government operates two national criminal databases; the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIS), both of which are not available to the public. So, if those are the two national criminal databases, how are background screening companies using them?

Background screening companies “create” national criminal databases by gathering various records from multiple sources. They compile all of this information from multiple sources into a single database, thereby allowing a broader search of a single database rather than conducting multiple searches across many databases.

Yes, one single national criminal database does not exist. Yes, each background screening provider’s national criminal database may contain different records. And YES, you should be conducting national criminal database searches as part of your screening process.

hiring the right candidate

Ok, now that we have confused you, let’s talk first about why national criminal searches should be conducted. In today’s world there is more travel and transient behavior than ever before. People move around for college, jobs and to start new opportunities. This travel can be across state lines and/or multiple counties. Think of a district manager, who may live in one county, but drive regularly to stores across counties and even fly to a longer, more distant store location. If you were conducting a county criminal check, which county do you check? He may be living in one county, flying and staying over in a hotel in another county and perhaps driving a company car through other counties on a regular basis. If s/he were cited or arrested in one county, it would not show up in a different county.

National Criminal databases are often less expensive than county criminal checks and can cover a larger area. It is easier and less costly to conduct a national criminal check and supplement it with one or two counties.

It is all about the data

So, we have shown that conducting a national criminal database allows a broader, less expensive approach, but does it provide us all of the information to perform an accurate criminal background check?

The answer to that question has two components. First, no, a national criminal database check will not provide you all the information to conduct a thorough criminal background check. Unfortunately, not all reporting agencies report all details or incidents electronically or in a timely fashion. These databases are not meant to replace a county criminal search, but to provide a first step in the process, which is affordable and returns faster results than a county search.

The second item to understand about national criminal database records is choosing the right database. As mentioned earlier in this article, background screening companies compile data from various sources and there are no pre-determined or specific sources that all screening companies include. To get the most out of your national criminal database searches, you want to find a screening company that has the most data sources, imports them frequently and offers data to back up their compilation of sources. Some questions you should ask a provider to make sure their national criminal database they offer a quality solution are:

  1. How many sources do you have?
  2. How many sources have you added in the last 12 months?
  3. Can you provide a complete list of sources with refresh rates? 


To get the next 7 questions along with the appropriate answers, download the complete whitepaper on National Criminal Databases: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


Thanks to our alliance partners, General Information Services (GIS) for providing LPI with information to support this blog article. To learn more about our alliance with GIS, visit our website.

Topics: policies and procedures

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