We recently sat down with our Public Records Manager, Lisa Legere, to provide some insight into the world of public records and criminal background screening.
Q&A with Lisa Legere, RentGrow’s Public Records Manager
Q: Lisa, what are “public records”?
Legere: In the context of resident screening, the term “public records” typically refers to criminal records, sex offender records, and civil court eviction records and filings.
Q: As RentGrow’s Public Records Manager, what do you do every day?
Legere: As a public records manager I have two primary roles:1) I oversee our team of public records analysts, and 2) I manage our public records data sources and products.
I am constantly striving to improve our delivery and turn-around for our customers. I help the team with complex customer questions related to specific public records.
In addition, I constantly research the available public records data sources around the country to ensure that we incorporate the strongest records sources into our products. I work closely with RentGrow’s entire management team to make sure we are delivering public records in a manner that pleases our customers.
Q: Where do Criminal Records data come from?
Legere: Well, first I should clarify that state and federal law enforcement has its own database of criminal records. The general public does not have access to that database, nor does any private property management company or screening firm. RentGrow and other screening firms’ access databases primarily constructed from department of corrections and courthouse records. There are thousands of courthouses and corrections departments across the country. There are hundreds of data companies that retrieve and package those records into databases.
At RentGrow, we get our records from public records data providers that stand out on a regional basis. As a private and independent company, we have the unique advantage of researching and selecting the very best data providers on a local level, then weaving them together to create the best comprehensive criminal screening. We also provide records from the national sex offender registry.
Q: Why do the contents of criminal records vary from state to state? And why is there the possibility of “false positives”?
Legere: With credit information there is a national standard for the format and information included on the reports, and all credit reports include Social Security Numbers (SSN). This is not the case with public records such as criminal and court records. The various courthouse reporting practices and state laws regulate the format and information provided on public records. For reasons of privacy, nearly every state and courthouse excludes SSN from public records. In certain states, the public records even remove date of birth or address. Because there are no SSNs on these records, in the event of a common name, results may require additional research to ensure there are no “false positives.”
As a professional screening company, we recognize that even the best available public records have these inherent inconsistencies and limitations. The best thing we can do for our clients is to be experts in our field and take care of filtering, deciphering, and servicing the records for our customers. This makes the landlord’s job much easier and saves time.
Q: I understand there are national and statewide criminal databases where you have instant access to information, but we’ve all heard of county-level searches. Why would someone want to run a county-level search? How do you retrieve data on a county-level search?
Legere: First of all, there are a few states that don’t report substantial criminal information to automated state or national databases: specifically Massachusetts, Delaware, Wyoming, and South Dakota. In those states, a county-level search is really the only viable option.
Even in states where automated data is available, the databases can have limitations and some customers opt to conduct supplemental county searches to be extra thorough. The upside of a county search is that the records are very detailed and accurate. However, because it’s a manual search, it has downsides: turn-around varies from next-day to a few days, the geographic scope is narrow, and it costs more than the automated searches.
We retrieve county-level search requests by partnering with professional court runners/researchers around the country. When a customer requests a county search, it triggers one of those researchers to physically go to the county courthouse, check for files, and return the results.
Lisa, thanks for your time!
Legere: Thanks. As the Public Records Manager, I can confidently say our team is always working hard to improve our operations and be the best in the industry when it comes to delivering public records.