As with any specialized business service, there are nuances that take a lot of experience to understand. What seems simple on the surface, you learn over time, is fraught with details and potential pitfalls that are best addressed by subject matter experts.
To shed some light on the kinds of issues we address every day, we interviewed one of our resident research experts, Samantha Mason. Samantha is a research supervisor here at Wholesale Screening Solutions. With her input, we’ve put together a list of 5 things you might not know about the public records research process.
1. The availability of online information varies (sometimes greatly) from county to county.
With more than 3,000 counties in the United States, each with the power to make their own decisions about the availability of their court records online, each county can and does do things differently. So, while we can generally get research done by accessing a court’s database online and obtain the same information we would as if we walked in the courthouse, ‘generally’ is the key word. We can access information online but sometimes it’s not the same information as we would find if we were to go into the courthouse. Other times, there is no online access and our only option is to go to the courthouse in person.
2. Turnaround times vary (sometimes greatly) from county to county.
This is an eye-opening revelation for many CRAs and clients. Consider the case where you have clients that request a lot of work in a particular geographic region, such as Alabama, where the court systems tend to be very efficient and average turnaround times are well under 24 hours. Then they request records from Massachusetts where the courts rely on a paper-based system and we have to involve the clerks to get the whole story. A search in Massachusetts could take a week, two weeks, or even a month. The point is, the process doesn’t work the same everywhere.
3. Courts differ in the types of data they will provide.
When you order criminal records, are you really clear on what you are getting? More importantly, are you clear on what you’re NOT getting? Many clients assume if they order misdemeanor and felony records, they will get those records regardless of the county the search is taking place. In reality, there are some courts that will only release felony records. At Wholesale Screening Solutions, we are on the cutting edge of what’s happening in courts across the country and can advise you on what you will and won’t get from each jurisdiction.
4. Public records researchers are often at the mercy of court clerks.
While an increasing number of courts are moving to web-based records dissemination, there are still a large number of courts that we must visit in person to retrieve records by hand. When we make these visits, we are often at the mercy of court clerks who are the gatekeepers to the records. Relationships become very important here and at Wholesale Screening Solutions, we place great emphasis on developing rapport with clerks to help us work more efficiently. Still, like all public records researchers, we contend with courts that are understaffed and clerks who are often overloaded with requests. This can impact turnaround times in ways that are difficult for clients to understand.
5. Removal of PII impacts the reportability of criminal records.
We previously wrote about the trend of courts removing personally identifiable information (PII) in court records and the challenge this presents. The national trend toward increasing privacy legislation has trickled down to courts. As a result, many have reevaluated and changed public access records policies to more strongly protect personal information in court records. Tightening access or redacting PII from public indexes stems from a desire to protect individual privacy and reduce the potential for identity theft. But it also impacts the accuracy of criminal records screening which in turn, impacts what we can and cannot report. In other words, if we can’t match a record to an individual with 100% accuracy, we can’t report it to our clients. Some clients fail to fully understand this reality.
In our world of public records research, we try to help our customers understand the nuances in order to reduce confusion and misunderstandings but most importantly, to help you better manage the expectations of end users and consumers. These are just some examples that illustrate the importance of having the right research partner in place.