Investigation by newspaper and TV station shows Ohio's background check system is unreliable

Associated Press

Ohio's computerized background check system has been flawed and unreliable for years, often failing to provide accurate information about convicted felons, according to an investigation by The Columbus Dispatch and WBNS-TV.

The fingerprint-based system operated by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in the office of Attorney General Mike DeWine has wrongly indicated that thousands of criminals have clean records.

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A review of thousands of pages of records by The Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1KanurX ) and WBNS (http://bit.ly/1DsoH9y ) revealed ongoing problems with the 15-year-old system, which is used for more than 1.3 million checks every year.

Thousands of intertwined criminal-conviction and fingerprint records with processing errors have hung in limbo in the system for months at a time, while records of convictions don't arrive promptly or at all, according to the media outlets.

Police officers and employers rely daily on the criminal background-check system, which DeWine describes as "critical for the safety of Ohio families."

The system is used to vet school teachers, foster parents, medical professionals, police officers, firefighters, day care and nursing home workers, gun owners seeking concealed-carry permits, and many others.

If the system doesn't work, felons can be hired for jobs they should not have landed, police officers might not know they just stopped a person with a history of violence, and ex-convicts could be approved to carry handguns.

State officials say the problems are leading them to crack down on the system contractor and buy a multimillion-dollar replacement.

"We inherited kind of a Model T (information technology) system," DeWine said, adding that the system has required constant upgrades. "Going back years and years, nothing had been done, really, to bring it up to date."

DeWine likens the challenge of fixing the background-check system to changing an engine in an airplane while it is flying.

"We're better than we were," he said.

Ohio's criminal-history system is tied to fingerprints submitted by police agencies and courts after people are convicted of crimes. Private-sector and government employers also submit fingerprints to learn whether would-be employees have records.