Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bad Checks: DPS criminal background database corrupt

Kafka understood where we were headed - today every one of us is just a couple of faulty keystrokes away from becoming a modern Joseph K.

Kuff, the Houston Press' Keith Plocek has an excellent article in its July 6 issue about the Texas Department of Public Safety's crappy criminal background check database you can search for $3 bucks on the web - huge chunks of data are missing and what's in there is unaudited, not to mention frequently incomplete or erroneous. I encourage you to read the whole thing. Plocek called me for the story because of a blog post I wrote in February, and Kuff points out I was afforded a couple of pithy quotes in the piece:
"The database is corrupt and a piece of garbage," says Scott Henson, a political consultant in Austin. "The thing has just turned into its own animal."


"People need to be able to get jobs at some point," says Scott Henson, whose blog, Grits for Breakfast, deals exclusively with the Texas criminal justice system. "Would you prefer they robbed your house?"

Using the public information act, Plocek found terrific case studies where the crappy database falsely accused people who shouldn't have been excluded from jobs while failing to identify those who might pose a real danger. The example in his lede drives home the point: A girls softball coach vetting potential assistant coaches finds a conviction on one applicant and none on another. Problem is, the "conviction" was erroneously reported in DPS' database, while the "clean" applicant had earlier received prbation for stealing a video camera and using it to film adolescent girls through windows.

Amazing - in this case, using DPS' background check system led to a decision that arguably made these girls less safe.

Many counties report less than half their convictions to DPS - they've been required by law to do it since 1993, but no resources are available to support this unfunded mandate. There's no auditing system in place for catching errors - whatever counties report is what's in the database with no adjustments. And in many instances, folks are included who shouldn't be there at all. Cases ending in deferred adjudication, for example, which should result in clearing a defendant's record, are reported side-by-side along with regular convictions.

To make matters worse, this bad info then gets purchased by commercial databrokers, and once the information makes it to that arena, it's nearly impossible to 100% correct.

This scenario begs for use of the word "boondoggle." DPS' database is
not fulfilling the purpose it's designed for, causing problems no one ever intended, and costing state and county taxpayers a small fortune for a bad product. Regular readers know I think WAY too many jobs are restricted for ex-cons, anyway, but the problem gets worse with this kind of Kafka-esque record-keeping system. They should spend what it takes to fix it or scrap it, but it's doing as much harm as good right now.


Anonymous said...

This is just a symptom of the disease; the whole agency is considered a joke (among law enforcment agencies).
They really got a handle on those rouge drug task forces, doidn't they....
All they do is write speeding tickets

Anonymous said...

I am A student in Boise ID and happenend across this page while researching for an in class assignment. I am studying for a Bachelors in Criminal Justice and found it very informative. I have decided to help get as many people to read this as possible and have forwarded it to everyone on my e-mail lists. thnx JDM