March 31, 2004




Author: Timothy O'Connor; Staff

Author: The Journal News

Section: News

Pirro pushes for law on criminal history probes

Bill would require checks for private security workers

Timothy O'Connor


Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro urged federal lawmakers yesterday to pass a law that would allow private security companies to require criminal background checks of prospective employees.

The U.S. Senate bill, known as "The Private Security Officer Employment Authorization Act," would authorize private security firms to ask applicants to be fingerprinted for a search of the FBI's criminal records. At the moment, 31 states require or permit criminal background checks for prospective security guards.

Pirro was one of three witnesses who testified before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security in support of the bill. She called for Congress to authorize employers across the board to do criminal background checks as part of the employ! ee screening process.

"In the post-9/11 era, when we restrict legitimate employers from finding out critical information about job applicants, we do so at the risk of safety and security," she said. "By selectively identifying careers that will allow employers to seek access to public records containing criminal histories, we effectively preclude other equally deserving employers the same access."

Don Walker, the head of Securitas Security Services, the largest employer of private security guards in the nation, also testified in favor of the bill, as did Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute.

But Maltby warned that the growing concern for safety could serve to unfairly freeze out good people with mistakes in their past. He asked Congress to set guidelines for the fair use of criminal background information in evaluating potential employees.

"Congress needs to provide leadership to employers on the use of criminal records," ! he said. "We need to create guidelines that prevent violent and dishon est people from becoming security officers, without casting the net so wide that we undermine the criminal justice system's efforts to rehabilitate former offenders or damage our economy."

The FBI processed more than 17 million requests for criminal history checks in the last fiscal year, said Michael Kirkpatrick, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Systems Division. Kirkpatrick did not testify as to the merits of the bill. He testified about the FBI's fingerprint identification program.

He said that nearly half of the 17 million requests came from civil sources, such as potential employers. Approximately 900,000, or 12 percent, of the civil checks came back positive for criminal histories, he said. In addition to the fingerprint criminal history search, he said, every request is also name-checked against the FBI's wanted persons list and the terrorist watch list.