October 10th, 2018 | Sterling

Background Screening: A Core Function of Policing?

Background Screening: A Core Function of Policing?

As a Life Member of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), I recently attended the annual conference held in Halifax Nova Scotia. The theme for this year’s conference was “Policing in an Ever-Changing World”. The topics discussed ranged from the pending legalization of cannabis, to the emergence of crypto-currency and its exploitation by terrorist groups and organized crime, to confronting mental health issues for first responders. As diverse as they are, each of these emerging challenges comes with new implications from a police resource perspective.

A prevalent consideration inherent with many CACP discussions is how to parse non-core police functions from the myriad demands police services face. There is growing acceptance that solutions involve partnerships. Indeed, the trade show floor is rife with companies that exist to provide outsource options to police consumers seeking better ways to meet the challenges their resources face. This is also the case with what are typically referred to as “front counter operations” such as the filing of routine matters, collision reporting and police record checks.

Police Resource Challenges

Police services are increasingly receptive to concepts that heretofore garnered little interest or consideration. The notion that the background screening industry in Canada may be regarded as a useful ally in alleviating a significant pain point continues to gain acceptance. Here are some considerations associated to police information checks that continue to shape the landscape while presenting resource challenges for many police jurisdictions:

  • Background Screening Need: Screening is a fiduciary responsibility that employers and organizations are increasingly assuming on behalf of employees and clients. Organizations today recognize that ensuring a safe work place, preserving the integrity of the organization and protecting the brand are essential. The trend among medium and large organizations is to screen prospective employees and this will continue.  Similarly, community and volunteer organizations recognize the importance of ensuring safe programs are delivered to their clients. Increasingly, organizations outsource this process to third party companies that offer a range of services that go beyond criminal record and police information checks.


  • Using a Third-Party Screening Provider: There is a growing realization among police leaders that organizations often require additional background screening services. In many conversations that I have had with police leaders, it is a consistent feature that the understanding of what constitutes a background check is often limited to police and criminal record information. Educating about other services the background screening industry provides that complement the police information component helps to illustrate why consumer organizations seek solutions that are comprehensive and provided to them by a single point of contact. Once this is understood, it is quickly grasped why organizations often prefer to obtain their background check services through a third-party provider wherever possible.
  • Police Record Checks Reform Act: Industry processes are more evolved than those of many police service processes. In Ontario, the Police Records Check Reform Act (PRCRA) was introduced to address the unevenness of local police information disclosure practices as related to background screening. The PRCRA defines the content and criteria for the three types of checks and it ensures that applicants have the right to review and challenge information that police may choose to disclose. Sterling’s search processes have always aligned with objectives of the PRCRA. When our processes establish that an applicant has no information about them requiring police review and potential disclosure, that determination is reached by searches conducted in accordance with the criteria prescribed in the PRCRA. In fact, Sterling’s processes provide an efficient and secure off-ramp to police disclosure (where it applies) while otherwise enabling applicants to be cleared more rapidly than any front counter process involving a police service.
  • No Record Determinations: Ninety five percent of Canadians have no criminal record or adverse police information. Anyone who has had to attend a police station to obtain a Criminal Record Check, a Police Information Check, or a Vulnerable Sector Verification knows that it is an inconvenient, time consuming and often expensive and slow process. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that visiting the police station is also almost always unnecessary. Over ninety percent of Canadians have no criminal or adverse information about them in any local or national databases. This fact illustrates why a private sector process that quickly generates “no record” determinations pairs so well with a police process when “record” determinations require the additional step of disclosure. Such partnerships better serve all three key interests: police resource challenges, organizational onboarding needs, and perhaps most importantly, applicant needs.
  • Canada Firearms Act: Police jurisdictions can avoid over ninety percent of front counter volumes if they choose to do so. The Canada Firearms Act is a good case study on the inherent responsibility of disclosure. When the Canada Firearms Act was introduced in 1998, it replaced a system of firearms licensing where local police investigated applications and revocations. A key premise of the bill was that non-core administrative work would shift from expensive police resources to a network of Provincial Firearms Officers – an early recognition of core policing functions vs non-core functions. Notwithstanding this sound premise, the records and information firearms officers sometimes need to make licensing decisions are police records in the control of the police. The salient point to take from the Firearms Act experience is that when records exist, the entity that has them is tasked with the responsibility of disclosing information from them.

Police Functions for Background Screening

This example of a division of roles can be applied to background screening for employment and placement purposes; the police must perform the disclosure function as they possess the records. The good news is, in “no record” situations as occur over ninety percent of the time, there is no police function beyond the initial searches and these can be readily handled by Industry’s Police Partner Agencies. While disclosure of police information is a core function, the determination of a “no record” finding can be treated as a non-core function and can be transferred.

In conclusion, as demands for secure, centralized efficient background screening grow, police jurisdictions in Canada will continue to be confronted with the questions: what constitutes a core function in this realm? What is non-core and could be addressed through partnerships with the Private Sector?

Private/Public Partnerships are one area where much more can be done to realize benefits for Canadians. In its role and a background screening industry leader, Sterling will continue to advocate for solutions that make sense for organizations, applicants and taxpayers.

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.