Tuesday, November 25, 2008

DPS crime database too shoddy for thorough background checks

Crime data maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety is so shoddy that it's unreliable for performing background checks and gives the public a "false sense of security," according to an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ("Texas DPS criminal databases missing thousands of records," Nov. 25):

More than a third of criminal records are missing from the online Department of Public Safety database available to the public, a Fort Worth company found in a study.

Even government agencies, which have access to more detailed criminal records to screen teachers, doctors, volunteers and tradespeople, use a DPS system fraught with gaps, officials and experts said.

Problems exist because of human error and because of spotty reporting from law enforcement agencies, courts and district attorneys that provide information.

Even records of Death Row inmates are missing from the public database, according to the study by Imperative Information Group, a Fort Worth background investigation company. The company studied 562 felony and misdemeanor cases.

"We know that the data is not very reliable," said Mike Coffey, president of Imperative. "There’s a false sense of security that this criminal background check is going to be effective."

Equally disturbing for purposes of background checks, often counties will enter data when charges are initially filed, but nobody goes back to remove the allegations when charges are disproven or dismissed. So some people are missing from the database while others are falsely labeled felons and really shouldn't be in there.

See prior, related Grits posts:


Don Dickson said...

Just to be clear about this, in case it isn't already clear, this is primarily if not wholly NOT the fault of the DPS.

It is maddening though, I can vouch for that as a user of the online public database. There's stuff that ain't in there, and other stuff that is in there even though the charge was dismissed or reduced. People lose jobs or can't rent apartments because of this stuff. It's very frustrating.

Anonymous said...

Once again, there should be a substancal civil penalty for officials mishandling data that causes harm. Loss of job, commission and financial penalty ought to be enough to get folks to do their jobs.

Anonymous said...

Actually, my firm authored this study and while DPS does have some blame, most of the records that aren't being included in the public side of DPS database are submitted to DPS incomplete by the local law enforcement agencies, district attorneys, or court clerks.

I agree that the process for removing expunged records in Texas is sloppy. The decentralized nature of our record keeping makes it difficult to know to which agencies (law enforcement, county jails, courts, DA's, DPS, DOC) to send expungement orders. Most attorneys don't understand this and don't address the orders to the right agencies.

In any event, to conduct a reliable criminal background check, you really have to check the county and district criminal records in each jurisdiction in which an individual has lived or worked. Then, as a safety net, check the records of Texas DPS and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Any records found in those two sources, however, should also be verified at the county level.


Mike Coffey
Imperative Information Group

Anonymous said...

I know for a fact that my criminal record is wrong and needs to be updated.
I have one old felony but when people run it through the system it shows the same charge several times with different dates and it is so hard to explain that I do not have 6 or 7 felonies, it's hard to get people to believe me.
This always comes up when looking for a place to rent or getting a new job even if I try to explain everything beforehand.

Does anyone know who I should contact regarding this or can only an attorney handle this?

Anonymous said...

The data base from DPS is shoddy and contains a lot of wrong information. When a Deferred Adjudacation has been completed, which these incidents should not have been placed on their data base, as these are not convictions and should not be allowed to be held against anyone; read the law, Rule: 501.2, where the fact DAs are not convictions and should not be treated as such is not followed by DPS. Also, the computers are only as smart as the person inputting the information and that is not saying much!

I am going to state my opinion, which is my opinion only and those of you who wish may also state your opinion, DAs should never be sent to DPS and all need to be removed from the Data Base and only put convictions there or better, remove the Public Data from the website entirely. The Data Base is faulty and wrong and the information on some of the records is not only incorrect but liable!!

The corrections have to come from the court where the DA was given and they want money and for the person to have to pay an attorney to get these removed. This is a game played by some and should be entirely abolished. Let the lawyers earn their money, they certainly charge clients enough, let them search the records before being able to just look on line and use faulty information to hurt someone who does not deserve the mistreatment.

Anonymous said...

Just ask Walter Rothgery if records showing a felony conviction can be wrong. Disgraceful.

Anonymous said...

All the people responsible for the basically false and faulty information in these databases should be looking at lawsuits, and it sure seems there ought to be a few. They'll get around to making sure the information is correct and current, then, maybe.

Anonymous said...

If the information age is to be of any use, the data has to be correct.

The subject of criminal, insurance, health records should be subject to dispute, just like credit records are.

Don said...

Part of the problem is that county and district clerks, especially in small jurisdictions, don't have much oversight or accountability. They run slipshod shops, and keep getting elected, basically because nobody knows what they do, nor cares. I have lived in rural Texas on the South Plains and Panhandle all my life, and this has always been the case. Aunt Sally needs a job; run for county clerk. Another case for term limits, at all levels.

Kara said...

This is ridiculous. I don't really believe the public should have access to the background check of anyone they please, but even if they can if the check is often incorrect then what good do they do? I believe that background checks can be an invaluable tool in certain situations, but if they're incorrect then even that is a moot point.