employment background screening, BRB Publications, criminal background searches

Speaking with an Expert: BRB Publications CEO – Mike Sankey

As background screening providers, Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) pull information on prospective employees and tenants from a wide variety of sources.  BRB Publications is one such source of information; in fact, it is the nation’s premier publisher of reference sources and websites used to locate public records, according to its website and its founder and CEO, Mike Sankey.  The importance of a service like BRB Publications cannot be overstated.  Without reliable sources of information such as this, it would be extremely difficult for background screeners to do their work efficiently due to the ever-changing laws in states, cities, and municipalities around the country.

What is BRB Publications?

BRB Publications was founded in 1988 by Mike Sankey after he published a book addressing questions about the Department of Motor Vehicles’ policies, procedures, and violations in all 50 states.  Prior to that, Sankey was the CEO of Rapid Info Services, a national driving record provider that was the first to offer online ordering, as most records were still supplied only in paper format.  From that first DMV book, he expanded to publications dealing with courts, recorder’s offices, and state agencies.  After 150 editions of these books had been published, the company moved into web-based subscription services, with information available electronically.  “This is not content that you can just find on Google,” Sankey says.  “It’s much deeper than that, and gives the end user much more than just ‘where to go, who to call’ type of information.  Our goal is to assure our subscribers that the information they find [through BRB Publications] is good, usable data.”

BRB pulls information from 28,000 entities profiled on record access, policy, and procedures.  That includes 12,500 courts; 4,000 recorder’s and assessor’s offices; 2,000 agencies that handle occupational licensing; 8,000 different agency lookups; as well as various state agencies, worker’s compensation records, vital records, UCC filings, criminal records, and colleges.  The company also maintains five different websites containing information from the broad to the general, some of it subjective.  The end users are the background screening industry, which makes up less than 50% of BRB’s client list, attorneys, the news media, insurance claims adjusters, members from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), ASIS International, and other organizations that require access to public record information and want to learn to use it more effectively.

What does this mean for background screening?

As Mike sees it, there are three primary areas of concern for CRAs focused on criminal background screening as it pertains to state criminal record repositories:

  1. The timeliness of receiving the data,
  2. The timeliness of the data being entered into the repositories, and
  3. The inability to match dispositions with existing documents

Because of these issues, the overall accuracy of state criminal record repositories cannot always be completely trusted, even if fingerprints are included in a record.  The U.S. Department of Justice’s 2015 Survey of State Criminal Record Repositories revealed some alarming facts about how criminal information is captured, recorded, and reported:

  • 8 states reported that 25% or more of all dispositions received could not be linked to the arrest or charge information recorded in the state criminal record database, and 14 states simply don’t know how many dispositions can’t be linked
  • In 20 states, there are more than 3 million unprocessed or partially processed court dispositions
  • 11 states report that there is at least a 50-day backlog between the disposition of a felony case and when that information is entered in the state’s criminal history database, and 18 states reported that they do not know how long the delay is

This is a huge problem for background screeners because the FCRA says that the most up-to-date databases must be used, but these latest figures from the Department of Justice indicate that millions of records simply cannot be matched to an individual.

How do they keep up with it all?

Though it seems like BRB Publications would need hundreds of employees to keep up with the constantly changing state and local laws in the United States, the company is run by just four employees who are constantly monitoring via surveys that are sent out each week.  These surveys are sent to various governmental agencies that report public record information; the team also uses the news, Google searches, and other resources like paperless and electronic systems to monitor changes in procedure and policy in every state.  The goal, Sankey emphasizes, is to make sure that the information passed on to subscribers of the service is accurate and of the highest quality.

What are the biggest threats to the background screening industry today?

According to Mr. Sankey, automation, legal issues, and compliance are the three biggest threats to the industry today.  “The legal issues aspect goes beyond the firms [that are] cutting corners,” he says.  “There are many attorneys out there looking for reasons to sue, and this has caused problems for CRAs.” Compliance is crucial right now, and the accreditation process offered by the National Association for Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), of which Sankey is a founding member, is one of the biggest helps for CRAs available.  Unfortunately, Sankey says, the news media doesn’t really understand the accreditation process and capitalizes on mistakes, so that is how the public perceives the industry as a whole.

Regarding automation, Mike feels there is just too much of it.  “What’s setting the state is information being passed through the information food chain without somebody looking at it, using their common sense, and saying, ‘Hey, this doesn’t add up…let’s take a look at this!’”  While automation can be a good thing from a time-saving perspective, human eyes will always be needed to avoid becoming too dependent on the technology.

What does the future of background screening look like?

Sankey believes that fingerprinting will be used much more in the future.  They are mandated by many licensing boards in the United States, and there are many jobs, subject to state regulation, that require fingerprinting as a condition of hiring.  “This isn’t going to go away,” he says.  “They are a positive identifier, and they do have good points.”  However, until fingerprint databases catch up to the quality of the records found at the court level – until there’s a federal law mandating when state records are uploaded and recorded at the federal level – there will continue to be challenges with fingerprinting that impede its success.  Traditional background screening research will remain the primary source of most accurate and complete information until the federal laws and the quality of information meet – this will definitely not happen overnight.

Another stumbling block that he has identified as likely to affect the future of the background screening industry is the growing trend of states imposing restrictions on court clerks to eliminate the liability of doing court searches.  In Arkansas, the attorney general has decided that pre-employment checks are the same as data aggregators, and has given court clerks the option to decline researching these records.  A similar situation exists in Texas. More and more, Sankey says, courts are acting against dispensing information by redacting identifiers like date of birth, social security number, and addresses.  This is truly counter-productive since this level of redaction fails to address the efficiency of such identifiers, making these databases no longer efficient as a primary resource of detailed information.

We at The Cedalius Group, the background screening provider you can trust, would like to thank Mike for sharing his thoughts and providing insight on how his organization, BRB Publications, strives to ensure that the data obtained by CRAs like us is as accurate as possible.  If you have questions about this or any other aspect of background screening policies and procedures, or if you’d like a complimentary compliance evaluation, please give us a call today at 404.963.9862 or visit us online at www.thecedaliusgroup.com

The Cedalius Group offers insight into the background screening industry for educational purposes.  We always recommend you consult with your legal counsel to determine practices that best suit your business needs.