3 Failures in Background Checks in Denver’s Jail System

Nick Fishman


Denver’s year-old policy allowing for the disposal of pre-employment background checks in its jail system is garnering more attention for a system already under the microscope. An April 2013 policy allows for the destruction of pre-employment records in as little as three years after the employee is hired. This is only a year above the minimum set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and far below the minimum recommended by Colorado municipal clerks and consultants. Keep reading to learn the three failures of background checks in Denver’s jail system.

1. Inadequate Employee Record Retention

Many municipalities and businesses maintain policies requiring the retention of employee records not only during employment but also for a duration after termination. Retention of pre-employment background checks can be highly useful in lawsuits regarding negligent or discriminatory hiring practices. Keeping these records safe ensures that in the unfortunate event of legal action, all the information is readily available.

Denver’s mistake: Not all records are readily available for investigators, making it appear as though the jail system has something to hide.

2. Improper Utilization of Background Check Information

Background checks are incredibly helpful in the hiring process but only if its information is properly utilized. They are especially important when hiring government employees, and specifically, law enforcement. The results of a criminal background check must be examined in detail, and the final decision must take all of the information into consideration. Many criminal records do not disqualify the candidate, depending on the job, but someone with indiscretions directly related to his/her desired position (like a jail guard with a firearms charge) should be carefully examined. Using care and scrutiny in the hiring process is essential for putting together a team that can represent an organization.

Denver’s mistake: A number of pre-employment background checks in Denver’s jail system have recently been investigated by local media, exposing multiple individuals on the payroll with criminal records. These same employees have, not surprisingly, been involved in some of the Denver jail system’s scandals.

3. Lack of Action on Problem Individuals

Second chances are a core belief of many employers and background screening companies. If a candidate has somehow demonstrated a reconciliation with their past, and the organization has adequately assessed the risks, hiring an employee with a criminal record can lead to years of loyalty to that company. Applicable to both new hires and long-term employees, however, is the strict obligation of an organization to reassess an employee who puts others in danger, whether it’s intentional or through negligence. The old rule is still true—a system is only as strong as its weakest link. This idea must be applied to an organization’s ethical standards in the same degree to which it is applied to that organization’s standards of efficiency.

Denver’s mistake: The Denver Post’s investigation has uncovered many incidents in which city employees violated the law and were permitted to remain in their positions.

The Consequences

In part, due to the city’s mishandling of pre-employment background checks in the hiring process, Denver is in the midst of a troubling struggle with excessive force and civil rights violations, largely on the part of their law enforcement and jail workers. The Denver Post put a number to the city’s lawsuit payout in this article from August:

They reported that since 2004, the city has paid out $16.7 million to settle legal claims, with 58 percent for cases involving accusations of excessive force or civil rights violations.

The latest case involved an inmate named Jamal Hunter who suffered multiple incidents of jail violence and has just settled with the city for $3.25 million. Part of the settlement also involves nondisclosure on the part of Hunter and his attorneys of the evidence that brought the case to a close. In another case, involving a man who died while being restrained in custody, the city of Denver refused to turn over records for years until finally delivering a huge and unwieldy trove on the day of trial.

In Conclusion

The hiring process, including a comprehensive employment background check, is the gateway into an organization. The more secure the gateway, the safer the inner workings of the organization. Smart interviewing tactics and pre-employment background screening can go a long way toward preventing difficulties down the road, both internally and within the legal system.

Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
Nick Fishman
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