Another Police Department May Have Hired Despite Records on Criminal Background Checks

Fri, July 16th, 2010 - 6:56 am - By Gordon Basichis

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This is simply amazing to me.   It appears that once again another police department in a major city may have hired convicted felons in spite of the criminal records on their background checks.  It is either that or nobody bothered to review the background checks as they were returned.   So now we have criminals pursuing criminals, which in the abstract may be a good idea as the new employment hires may have a better understanding of the criminal mentality.  At least, that is what we can glean from a television show.

But real life is not a television show.   While I am all for forgiveness and giving people a second chance, the policy for law enforcement agencies and public service bureaus to hire people with criminal records on their background checks raises some interesting questions.  The first question that comes to mind is whether there will be added and costly liability issues, should this new employee with a criminal record have an altercation or be involved in some situation where a citizen is hurt, or contraband is missing.   Then there the added concerns for behavior patterns and the psychological impulses to take advantage of a newly found position of relative power.

According to NJ.Com, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the Newark Police Department with respect to new hires that had previous criminal records or who had otherwise failed their background checks.   According to the argument, while the Prosecutor’s Office understandably won’t comment on a current investigation, there are indications that certain persons in power exerted their influence to override the negative  recommendations from the  division that oversees background checks.  Let us say that some of the new and questionable hires may be relatives of officers  already on the force.    It should be noted that some of the employment candidates were rejected due to bad credit reports.   Law enforcement authorities will often run credit reports on any of their job applicants.  Nothing unusual here.

I have blogged about the lack of oversight in law enforcement agencies and public service groups in previous articles.  One such article is entitled, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Returns to Earlier Hiring Practices.

Of course, as with anything of this nature, there is more to the story.  Some of the elements included political and internecine rivalries, whistle blowers, and my old favorite, stonewalling.   But with all that being said, there is a lesson to be learned here, and that is to develop a uniform policy regarding background checks.  And then stick to it.  Whether you are a police department, a public service agency, or a private employer looking to hire, the key to conducting pre-employment screening is to develop and adhere to a uniform policy.

This policy and the types of searches may vary according to the level of position and all of its incumbent complexities.  Simply put, you may probably conduct fewer background searches for an entry or lower level employee than you would for middle management or senior executives.   With senior executives, especially those in the financial area, you would consider federal criminal and federal civil searches in order to examine the potential for any white collar crimes in your employment candidate’s history.  You may wish to conduct county civil searches to check for any lawsuits, past or pending that would result in embarrassing you, the employer. With lower level positions, these are hardly necessary.  Same criteria would apply to job applicants in healthcare or, say, IT.

They key in conducting background checks is to be uniform.  And then review carefully the reports themselves, giving them more than a simple once over.  It should go without saying that it seldom pays to acquiesce to undue pressures and to go against your best judgment.  If it doesn’t feel right, and if the record shows evidence of questionable behavior, than it usually pays to go with your gut.

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