Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Online criminal history

The news yesterday was the announcement by the State Patrol and Governor Dave Heineman of a new online state criminal history report.  For $18 on your credit card, you can now get a more-or-less instant check of a Nebraska State Patrol criminal history. Lincoln Police Department criminal histories have been available online at $10 each for, oh, about a dozen years, I suppose.

So, what's the difference between a LPD criminal history and an NSP criminal history?  A Lincoln Police Department criminal history is a listing of arrests by Lincoln police officers and their disposition (with certain exceptions described here.) It does not include arrests by any other law enforcement agencies.  A Nebraska State Patrol criminal history, is a list of arrests and dispositions (with certain exceptions described here) by all Nebraska law enforcement agencies.

Theoretically, then, you would expect an NSP criminal history to be more complete than an LPD criminal history. The answer, however, may be both yes and no.  The reason it isn't so simple is this: NSP criminal histories are fingerprint-based.  If the defendant wasn't fingerprinted, the arrest will not appear.  There are many arrests for which the defendant is not fingerprinted.  Nebraska State law favors citation and release for misdemeanor offenses.

In Lincoln, for example, about 80% of misdemeanor arrests are cite-and-release situations: the defendant is issued a ticket and given a court date for something like misdemeanor assault, shoplifting, trespassing, disturbing the peace, urinating in public, vandalism, DWI, driving while suspended, littering, procuring alcohol for a minor, and released with a ticket and a court date--no slammer, no prints, no mugshot.  Arrests like this will not show up on an NSP or FBI RAP sheet. There is an acknowledgement on NSP's website of this limitation, but it gives the impression that these are just minor traffic infractions, which is not the case.

Conversely, an LPD criminal history will show all of these arrests and dispositions, whether the defendant was booked into jail and printed or just cited and released.  If you really want to get the best information, you'd need to do both a State criminal history and an LPD criminal history.  If you only do one or the other, it is something of a crap shoot as to which will be better.

If you're responsible for background checks, it would be wise to re-read my previous post on this topic, and to remember: "online" doesn't necessarily mean "complete."  In reality, there is no such thing as a complete criminal history.


Steve said...

Very informative post.

Anonymous said...

I realized that it's almost impossible to pull a 100% complete criminal history on anyone, for reasons you laid out in your linked posts. The pathetic thing is that many ignorant people who are allegedly professional reporters (but really just parrot press releases and wire stories to keep viewers and readers watching commercials and reading paid ads) still don't realize that. Just read and watch the local news stories on this topic and you'll know what dolts most of them are.

They imagine themselves to be Joel McCrea's brave and daring John Jones character from Foreign Correspondent, but in reality, the vast majority of them are just hacks like Will Farrell's "Ron Burgundy" character.

Anonymous said...

Background checks lead to a false sense of security. Until the day he was arrested, the monster Jerry Sandusky would have passed every single background check. Same for John Wayne Gacy. There is no single fail-safe method. That's not to discount the use of background checks, but to rely on them for 100 percent security is just theatrics.

Steve said...

I think the really pathetic thing is that so many people acquire criminal histories that rival a novel in length. I think after the first page, they should be in jail for the rest of their lives.

Anonymous said...

Why would someone be arrested for: "arrests for minor traffic infractions are not included"?

Anonymous said...

Do "so many people" really "acquire criminal histories that rival a novel in length"? That would generally be at least 30 or 400 pages. I sense an overdose of pathetic hyperbole.

Steve said...

Hyperbole is intentional exaggeration for the sake of effect; not intended to be taken literally. I don't think you can overdose on it, since the effect should vary directly with the amount of exaggeration; what we in the math world would call a positive correlation. For the greatest effect, you would want the maximum exaggeration. Perhaps I should have said, "I think the really pathetic thing is the ubiquity of exceptionally voluminous, never ending, criminal records." Actually, never ending is probably not exaggeration, since we keep letting these people roam free to carry out their evil deeds.

Anonymous said...

After 13 years of @ least 1 incarceration yearly(alcohol related) got it turned around.37 yrs jail free,Thank you Judge Grant.
May even pay $30 for 1 nite stay
@ Taj graybar on "O"

Watchful said...

Your post left me wondering just how "in depth" anyone looking for arrest records really digs.

A potential (Lincoln) employer may search for Lincoln arrest records and/or possibly, Nebraska State Patrol.

If the individual spent most of their adult life in the(insert institution here) Hall County Jail, those records would not pop up in either of the reports. At least that is how I read what the Director is saying.

The real questions are:

1. Who really needs a comprehensive report?

2. If such a report is needed, what is the best resource to obtain an all inclusive one?