Archive for the Health & Safety Category

Fixing the FBI’s Background Check System for Gun Buyers

gunsThe FBI’s criminal records database, which has long been known to be incomplete, is garnering new attention following the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre.

The FBI’s criminal records database along with a separate database of records of people involuntarily committed or otherwise ruled mentally ill by a court, are the backbone of the National Instant Criminal Background Check system. Under this system, states and local courts can voluntarily report criminal and mental health commitment orders to the FBI.

According to a New York Times article yesterday:

“Roughly 97 percent of the time, specialists said, the F.B.I. can provide an instant answer, but sometimes an ambiguity — an arrest record that does not say whether someone was convicted, or a common name — requires calling local courthouses to track down the information.       

“That can cause delays as local officials search through records, some of which are not yet digitized, law enforcement officials said. If the F.B.I. investigation is not completed within the waiting period, would-be gun buyers are permitted to go ahead. 

“Since 2005, 22,162 firearms — including nearly 3,000 this year — have been bought after the waiting period by people later determined to have been disqualified because of their criminal and mental histories, according to an examination of F.B.I. data.”

via Gaps in F.B.I. Data Undercut Background Checks for Guns, New York Times, December 20, 2012

Congress envisioned an easy, quick-to-check system for clearing gun buyers when they created the background check system under the 1993 Brady Bill.  I can sympathize with both that desire and with the complications involved in making it happen.

Courts in many states operate their own computer systems which are often unable to communicate with other courts or state agencies, let alone the FBI’s computers. There are 3,077 counties, boroughs, and parishes in the United States and most have multiple levels of court system. Coordinating the efforts of the affected court administrators, county and state officials, legislatures, and federal agencies to create a reliable centralized database system presents a significant challenge.

Even on the state level, thorough records are difficult to come by. Texas’ own criminal record database was found to be missing 1/3 of the criminal records included in a survey by Imperative Information Group in 2008.

There is a solution to capturing most of these missing records, particularly on the criminal history side of the database. I’m hesitant to even bring this up because this is such a volatile issue with parties on both sides of the gun control/gun rights debate often too eager to be offended. However, here we go:

Simply augment the FBI background check with the same research methodology used by employers all over the country – live, hands-on searches of the live records of the courts in each jurisdiction where the individual has lived or worked.

This often would not be completed in the three-day standard promised under the Brady Bill and it would be significantly more expensive than the free federal background check that gun buyers currently undergo. It would also miss older records not reflected on the courts’ current indices and possibly some records missed because of data entry errors by court clerks or human error by the researchers in the courts.

However, it seems to me that if we really want to keep guns out of the wrong hands while still ensuring that law-abiding and mentally-sound citizens still have the right to possess them, the same level of diligence utilized by public and private employers on a daily basis would not be a bad place to start.

Coffey on Channel 5 News story about identity theft

I was interviewed with regard to identity theft on DFW-area NBC affiliate Channel 5 yesterday.

What they didn’t include was my note that employees and others with access to companies’ employee and customer data are the single largest source of stolen identity information. Smart employers know who they are granting this access to before have an opportunity to steal identities!

The Importance of Quality Background Checks on In-Home Service Workers

Over at Bad Hire Days this week, I blogged about Jason Meinke, a convicted criminal whose record includes a felony conviction for aggravated stalking, who was sent by a Sears contractor into customers’ homes to clean air ducts. Proving that past performance is a pretty good indicator of future performance, he allegedly repeated his offensive behavior and has made the lives of at least a couple female customers miserable over the last several years.

Meinke came to my attention through Detroit TV station WXYZ’s Action 7 News investigative reporter Scott Lewis, who told me his story last month when interviewing me about the dangers of bad background checks. For his two-part news story, which aired in two parts on Sunday and Monday, Scott wanted to know how a background check could miss such a dangerous offender.
Part one (aired 11/06/2011):

Part two (aired 11/07/2011):

From Sunday’s story:

To find out, 7 Action News Investigators traveled to Orlando, Florida for a meeting of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners. We talked to Mike Coffey, a respected expert in the field. He said what we uncovered with Meinke is not uncommon because background checks often miss things.

“A lot of your really large employers, especially those who hire lower wage employees don’t do their due diligence,” said Coffey. “They just rely on the data base or some instant quick inexpensive background check.”

From Monday’s story:

There are no laws, state or national requiring background checks for in-home service workers. And when companies do background checks, you can’t always trust them.

“I hear from employers all the time, I just need a quick and easy background check. I just want to make sure he’s not a murderer,” said Mike Coffey, a recognized expert in background checks.

Coffey says employers, especially large companies often do it on the cheap, relying on criminal data bases that are notoriously inaccurate.

“I often tell employers if that’s all you’re going to do just put your money in escrow for your attorney fees because something’s going to happen,” Coffee told 7 Action News.

Coffey said a thorough background screening requires checking local court records in every jurisdiction a person has lived, instead of relying on national data bases which are inexpensive to use but often miss criminal convictions.

Background investigator Mike Coffey says it makes sense for companies to be thorough.

“I mean to spend $150 to $200 on a background check that’s really, really thorough for somebody that your sending into somebody’s home seems to me like a no-brainer,” Coffey said.

There are good reasons that Imperative will not sell a criminal records database by itself – the most important being that they regularly miss 30-60% or more of even the most serious criminal convictions, as was apparently the case with Jason Meinke.

Church and Nursing Home Fall Prey to “He’s a Nice Guy” Syndrome

My friend Greg Love is an attorney who, through his firm Ministry Safe, trains churches and community service organizations on how to keep sex offenders from harming their organizations. In his presentations he often laments that the Church is the last place where someone can show up and get access to kids or other vulnerable populations just by asking.

Greg’s point is that there is a tendency in a religious environment to presume to know someone’s “heart” and give them the benefit of the doubt along with access to kids, the infirm, or others who are vulnerable. The problem is that many deeply troubled and potentially dangerous people know how to talk the talk and appear to walk the walk. By the time their deception is identified, it is often too late.

That appears to be the case with this guy, Matthew Porter, a “volunteer associate pastor” and nursing home chaplain in Granbury, Texas.

According to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Porter has been accused of placing a hidden camera in a bathroom used by employees at Harbor Lakes Plaza Nursing and Rehabilitation, where he was acting as a chaplain.

Apparently, only after this investigation began did the nursing home or The Church at Granbury learn that he was convicted in Manatee County, Florida for nine counts of video voyeurism. According to the probable cause affidavit filed in the Florida case, Porter videoed the bathroom activities of members of a juvenille Bible study group he held in his apartment. He was sentenced to 120 days in prison and one year probation, which he was allowed to serve in Texas.

What is even more disconcerting is that while on probation he received counseling at Gateway Community Church in Granbury, and was allowed to volunteer and act as a chaplain by both Granbury churches. “We let him do that because he was in counseling at the same time,” Gateway’s former music minister, who also counseled Porter, is quoted as saying. He added that he now believes that Porter lied to him about the Florida circumstances, though the Star-Telegram article doesn’t say how.

Which brings us to another issue my friend Greg Love often points out. Individuals who act out in this way (Greg often refers to them as predators) know who to cultivate the trust of gatekeepers – parents, church leaders, workplace supervisors – the very people whose job it is to protect vulnerable populations.

When conducting background checks, we often see situations where an employment applicant will admit to a minor criminal offense that, once the background check has been completed, turns out to be a gross reduction of the actual offense(s). Employers are sometimes so impressed that the applicant is forthright about past offenses, particularly minor but emberrasing ones, that they let down their guard and fail to conduct proper due diligence.

Additionally, many organizations seem to equate how much an individual is being compensated with the level of the background check that is conducted. Never mind that a “volunteer pastor” or “chaplain” is automatically given immediate credibility by those he or she encounters and the potential for damage to others and the organization is often greater than many other more highly compensated positions. Organizations need to carefully review the risks associated with a position rather than the compensation level when determining the necessary level of due diligence.

Meanwhile, Hood County Sheriff investigators are still trying to identify Porter’s vicitims from the hidden camera images they found. He is out on $20,000 bond so if you use a public restroom in Granbury… well, I’m just saying.

A Hazy Legal Issue

 With the medical use of marijuana deemed legal in Colorado, employers face competing legal issues in deciding how to respond to positive drug screens. Safety and legal issues may be at odds and with no case law to guide them, Colorado employers’ compliance efforts may be up in smoke.


How Texas Christian University Prepared for H1N1

Last week, I had a chance to visit with Dr. Don Mills, Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs at Texas Christian University, and Jonathan Roark, TCU’s Director of Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity, about the Horned Frog’s H1N1 preparations. Their insight should be useful for other employers are preparing for this unusual flu season.

TCU began their business continuity planning six years ago when the avian flu became a world-wide health concern. Then, when H1N1 surfaced this spring, they began preparing for this fall’s flu season.

TCU’s planning efforts focused first on education and prevention efforts. “We knew we couldn’t beat it, but we might be able to manage it,” said Dr. Mills.

One major concern for employers like TCU is controlling the infection by limiting employee’s exposure to the virus, which means encouraging those with influenza-like illness (ILI) to stay home. While TCU didn’t formally change their attendance policies, they deciding to handle each circumstance on a case-by-case basis. TCU made it clear that “nobody is going to lose their job because they are sick and we don’t want anyone to suffer economically because they get sick – but mostly we don’t want them coming to work and other people getting sick,” said Dr. Mills.

All of their planning was put to the test during the first week of the fall semester when 200 student flu cases were reported. Because of their preparations and the relatively short duration of the flu strain (3 – 5 days), they were quickly able to move past that initial challenge but they are still experiencing 35 – 50 cases per week. Dr. Mills said that the current case load is very manageable. “We feel pretty fortunate. We think it is because we’ve been aggressive in telling people what they need to do.”

Although they don’t expect a major outbreak of the flu to occur on their campus, Dr. Mills believes that TCU is ready for a worst case scenario. Their business continuity plan in the event a large number of employees be unable to report to work at the same time includes:

  • Plans to consolidate work units in key areas such a food service,
  • Cross-training employees, and
  • Identifying temporary sources for employees.

Jonathan Roark has been coordinating TCU’s preparation efforts with state and local health officials, as well as maintaining regular communication with other area institutions about their preparation efforts and experiences with infections.

Thanks for Dr. Mills and Mr. Roark for their willingness to share TCU’s experience and insight with the community. Enjoy the video!

On a side note: This was our first effort at video blogging (vlogging). Two things I learned:

1. Don’t forget the dang tripod (that’s why it has a Blair Witch Project shake).

2. If you’re going to interview two people with one camera, have them sit next to each other!

Also, thanks to our marketing intern, Christina Quezeda, for her efforts in coordinating this interview!

Mike Coffey is president of Imperative Information Group, a Fort Worth, Texas-based background investigations and business due diligence firm dedicated to clients who can’t afford a cheap background check.  For more information about Imperative Information Group’s services, contact Mike at 877-HR-FACTS (877-473-2287) or visit us online at

Planning for a Healthy Workplace During Swine Flu Season



H1N1 – the swine flu – is back with a vengance. While the severity of this fall’s H1N1 outbreak is unpredictable, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has described as “plausible” that 30-50% of the US population may be infected and as many as 1.8 million Americans may be hospitalized with H1N1. Because most of those who are infected will be employed, many employers may scrambling to keep their doors open with a reduced workforce. Later this week, we’ll talk about disaster planning (disaster may overstate it – unless you’re one of the employers who loses half of their workforce to the flu), but first, let’s review what action the experts are suggesting employers take to help keep their workforce healthy.

Planning for the 2009 H1N1 Influenza: A Preparedness Guide for Small Businesses, published by the Department of Homeland Security, covers a number of topics from health tips to emergency planning suggestions. One section of the guide shares ten tips for keeping employees healthy during seasonal outbreaks of viruses like the flu:

    • Develop policies that encourage ill workers to stay at home without fear of any reprisals.
    • Develop other flexible policies to allow workers to telework (if feasible) and create other leave policies to allow workers to stay home to care for sick family members or care for children if schools close.
    • Provide resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene. For example, provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectants and disposable towels for workers to clean their work surfaces.
    • Provide education and training materials in an easy to understand format and in the appropriate language and literacy level for all employees. See
    • Instruct employees who are well but who have an ill family member at home with the flu that they can go to work as usual. These employees should monitor their health every day, and notify their supervisor and stay home if they become ill. Employees who have a certain underlying medical condition or who are pregnant should promptly call their health care provider for advice if they become ill.
    • Encourage workers to obtain a seasonal influenza vaccine, if it is appropriate for them according to CDC recommendations ( This helps to prevent illness from seasonal influenza strains that may circulate at the same time as the 2009 H1N1 flu.
    • Encourage employees to get the 2009 H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available if they are in a priority group according to CDC recommendations. For information on groups recommended for seasonal and H1N1 vaccines, please see Consider granting employees time off from work to get vaccinated when the vaccine is available in your community.
    • Provide workers with up-to-date information on influenza risk factors, protective behaviors, and instruction on proper behaviors (for example, cough etiquette; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth; and hand hygiene).
    • Plan to implement practices to minimize face-to-face contact between workers if advised by the local health department. Consider the use of such strategies as extended use of e-mail, websites and teleconferences, encouraging flexible work arrangements (for example, telecommuting or flexible work hours) to reduce the number of workers who must be at the work site at the same time or in one specific location.
    • If an employee does become sick while at work, place the employee in a separate room or area until they can go home, away from other workers. If the employee needs to go into a common area prior to leaving, he or she should cover coughs/sneezes with a tissue or wear a facemask if available and tolerable. Ask the employee to go home as soon as possible.

       In addition to the information above, there is also a set of tips tailored toward individual health maintenance within

the CDC’s guide.

      Employers might also share

this information from the CDC’s Germ Stopper site

      with employees. The CDC also has

downloadable posters on how to “cover your cough”

    that you might post around your workplace – or the door to your kids’ bedroom.

Hint: Cough into your elbow. Your coworkers (and your dry cleaner) will thank you for it. 

There are more extensive details on each of these tips on the website.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website contains a fact sheet titled What Employers Can Do to Protect Workers from Pandemic Influenza that explains a “hierarchy of controls” employers should address to limit workplace exposure to hazards of a pandemic flu outbreak. In order from most to least effective, OSHA lists

  • engineering controls,
  • administrative controls,
  • workplace practices, and
  • personal protective equipment.

These controls range from creating physical barriers like plastic sneeze shields to communication efforts to reconstructing some company policies. Although every one of these suggestions would cost money, business owners have to determine if a foreseeable threat to their company’s revenues brought on by employee absenteeism would cause greater damage.

When employees are out with flu-like symptoms, they shouldn’t rush back to work. While the CDC has reduced the time that they recommend that those who appear to have recovered from the flu, they still recommend “that people with influenza-like illness remain at home until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever (100° F [37.8°C]), or signs of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.” During the spring H1N1 outbreak, “most people with the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus who were not hospitalized had a fever that lasted 2 to 4 days; this would require an exclusion period of 3 to 5 days in most cases.” Employers should communicate this to employees and encourage them be cautious about returning to work.

According to the Department of Human and Health Services testimony before Congress, about 25% of businesses do not reopen following a major disaster, so smart employers will take steps to minimize the effects on H1N1 on their employee populations.

Coming Wednesday: Disaster planning – what if half (or more) of your employees can’t come into work?

Mike Coffey is president of Imperative Information Group, a Fort Worth, Texas-based background investigations and business due diligence firm dedicated to clients who can’t afford a cheap background check. For more information about Imperative Information Group’s services, contact Mike at 877-HR-FACTS (877-473-2287) or visit us online at

It’s Not Too Late to Begin Preparing for the Swine Flu

Doctor’s offices and hospitals around the country have been flooded with cases of H1N1 – the swine flu – and Texas is a hotspot. The Texas Department of State Health Services has classified the flu as “widespread” – it’s highest measure of infection rates – meaning “there are increases in flu-like illnesses and recent lab-confirmed flu cases in at least half of the state’s regions.”

Huntsville closed their public school campuses for a couple days last month due to flu-related absences and a hospital in Austin erected tents to treat the influx of patients complaining of flu-like symptoms. Closer to home, Dallas and Tarrant Counties both recorded their first swine flu-related deaths in the last month.

According the the CDC, the H1N1 vaccine won’t be available until mid-October and the currently available seasonal flu vaccine does not protect against H1N1. The longer individuals are able to delay the spread of both H1N1 and seasonal influenza, the higher the likelihood people accessing the vaccination in time to prevent falling ill.

Flu prevention and contingency planning will be very important for businesses this fall. Illness in their workforce, employee’s families, or even elsewhere in the supply chain could significantly injure the bottom lines of firms just beginning to recover from the recent recession.

In the coming week, the Imperative Blog will include links to resources about workplace flu prevention measures and planning to ensure business continuity in the face of a significant outbreak. 

Stay tuned…

Imperative Information Group is a Fort Worth, Texas-based background investigations and business due diligence firm dedicated to clients who can’t afford a cheap background check. For more information about Imperative Information Group’s services, please contact Mike Coffey at 877-HR-FACTS (877-473-2287) or visit us online at