April 27th, 2017 | Sterling

Beyond Police Information: Why Organizations Choose Background Screening Companies

Different types of magnifying glasses

I have a confession to make. Thirty-two and a half years in policing provided me with limited insight into the background screening industry – what it does, or how it works. I think this makes me a typical (former) police officer in this respect. Ask my former peers to describe background screening and you will generally receive a similar perspective to the one that I held: it’s about checking for criminal records or other potentially adverse information in police files. True insofar as it goes…

Criminal History Records and Police Information Work Hand in Hand

There is no argument that criminal history records and police information is integral to a comprehensive background screen. I’m not aware of any organization that omits this important component. After all, the premise of screening is that past behavior is something to consider since it can indicate potential for that behavior to be repeated – both the good and not so good. This applies to all considerations associated with the hiring decision including job performance, absenteeism, punctuality and interpersonal skills – as well as past criminality.

When I joined Sterling Talent Solutions, I gained a broader perspective on what employers need when attempting to make sound hiring decisions. It became clear that the range of services that Sterling provides is seen by many organizations as being essential to the HR intake function. One of the challenges I now face is to help foster that understanding within the world from which I originated – and it’s not always easy to do. One of the reasons it isn’t easy is because policing in Canada includes more than one point of view on background screening as a function.

Taking a Look at Canadian Police Jurisdictions and Background Screening

In Canada, there are 2500 police jurisdictions. The majority of these are policed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Sureté du Québec (SQ). In fact, these three account for ninety percent of the jurisdictions. The remaining 200+ are municipal police services. Although lesser in number, they account for most of Canada’s larger population centers and so, they often exert a significant effect on the police conversation about background screening.

The RCMP, OPP and SQ face a common challenge when it comes to providing over-the-counter criminal or police information checks: they have limited resources to put to this non-core activity. This isn’t necessarily the case with the municipal police services. There are some that see these checks as a revenue stream that can be used to augment police budgets. Those jurisdictions have taken steps to resource the function. Often, the jobs associated with the work are performed by unionized civilian employees. In some respects, it can be fairly stated that these police services are offering a competitive alternative to the background screening industry – at least in the limited context of police information.

Most police jurisdictions, whether municipal or otherwise, regard conducting these checks for what it largely is: a non-core activity. These jurisdictions often limit the service provided to that which they are mandated: information disclosure and Vulnerable Sector Verifications. Imagine the challenges this unevenness presents for organizations and applicants alike when multiple police jurisdictions are implicated!

Private Sector Background Screening vs. Police Information Screening

As a former Director General of both the Canadian Police Information Centre and the Canadian Criminal Real Time Identification Services, it’s been my view that the private sector represents the better option for organizations and applicants to initiate their screening process. Here are my reasons for thinking this way:

  • Most Canadians have no criminal record or adverse police information about them – in actuality, over ninety percent. As with many of the verification services that Sterling Talent Solutions provides, confirmation of the negative is centrally important to organizations. This is what organizations are seeking – and they can get it more securely, more rapidly, and in a more centralized manner from the background screening industry.
  • Police information is only one area of verification activity comprising a comprehensive screen. Others include references, employment verification, education and professional credential verification, credit history and social media/internet presence. With the exception of police information disclosure (when it applies), all these processes are outside of the police function.
  • In the minority of instances where adverse police information is discovered, disclosure of it can’t be anything but a police function. Decisions must be made whether the information, in whole or in part, should be released in the context of a hiring decision. No one but the record keeper can have that responsibility. (This is where I make the distinction between a non-core police function and a core one.) But again, this only applies to less than ten percent of applicants.

So why build an approach to background screening requiring a police front counter process that is only necessary less than ten percent of the time?

Organizations understand the importance of criminal record and police information in the context of background screening. Their needs include other processes and services however and meeting those requirements is what differentiates a full-service provider like Sterling Talent Solutions from the police front counter. Having now had a foot in both worlds, I understand this more fully and so I share this insight whenever I can. As always, I encourage readers to learn more about the ways that Sterling can support any organization to achieve better background screening. To learn more about background screening in Canada, download our eBook, Background Screening 101.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.