Local News

Background checks

Posted January 14, 1998 12:00 a.m. EST

— State law requires some employers to run background checks on job applicants. But, some criminals could be slipping through the cracks, even working at your child's school or day care.

State law requires hundreds of agencies to get background checks of job applicants completed through the State Bureau of Investigation. The law is very specific that only the SBI can make these checks. The problem is that the SBI is now months behind and unable to handle the volume. It's a delay that could be dangerous.

The SBI's Stan Lewis has his hands full, literally. Stacks of requests for criminal background checks are stashed throughout SBI headquarters.

These stacks of unanswered requests are from hundreds of agencies, including child care providers, nursing homes, adult care homes, home care agencies. There are also requests for checks to be done on foster parents, folks wanting concealed handgun permits, and lots more.

1,600 different agencies request background checks from the SBI -- 1,600 and rising.

An antiquated paperwork system is being replaced with computers, but that won't happen for at least six months. Meanwhile, the SBI's turnaround time for requests has increased from 12 days in 1994 to over 90 days in 1997 -- that's 90 days to get one background check finished.

What does that backlog mean? It means in that 90 days, a convicted felon could be teaching in your child's school, looking after your kids at daycare, or staffing your grandmother's nursing home.

Tom Harmelink, who directs the Home Healthcare Agency says that the state law which requires background checks was short-sighted. He says that the Legislature didn't allow time for the necessary resources to be put into place so the SBI could effectively carry out the mandate.

‚The SBI's Stan Lewis says that the problem will get worse before it gets better. But, he insists that it will get better later this year.

Lewis recommends that employers do their own local checks. Some have hired independent companies to make the background checks. While they get the checks back in less than a week, those background checks are pricey. It's money that most agencies have not budgeted.