Missourians who need background checks will be able to bypass messy ink, intimidating booking rooms and, most importantly, lengthy delays thanks to a new electronic fingerprinting service.
The state awarded a contract for the service to a Minnesota-based company April 20. The aim is to decrease the turnaround time for fingerprint checks by reducing the number of paper fingerprint cards, which are less accurate and require manual entry into the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s database. The contract requires the services be available within 90 days of its signing, but the Division of Purchasing and Materials Management would not confirm a specific starting date.
The current backlog for background checks often delays the hiring process in industries that require them for employment. Applicants required to undergo a background check include those seeking work in day care, education, nursing homes and airports. Potential foster parents must also be screened. The recent conceal-and-carry legislation in Missouri also requires applicants for permits to undergo background screening.
Previously, the criminal records and information division of the highway patrol was the sole agency dealing with background checks, and the process could take months to complete. In February, State Auditor Claire McCaskill’s audit of the highway patrol highlighted the backlog problem, and her office worked with Capt. Timothy McGrail, the division’s director, to look for solutions.
McGrail said the idea to contract for private electronic fingerprinting came from his office, inspired by what he’d seen other states do to grapple with increasing numbers of background checks.
Now, Identix Identification Service will be handling the fingerprint checks for applicants in Missouri. Identix was chosen after a bid process through Missouri’s Division of Purchasing and Material Management.
The Minnesota-based company will be the only private company doing electronic fingerprinting in the state. Law enforcement agencies will primarily process criminal suspect fingerprints and applicants for conceal-and-carry permits, although applicants wanting the old fashioned ink-and-roll fingerprinting will still be able to get it from the agencies.
Identix has contracted to provide scheduling through a toll-free telephone service and appointments between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. within five business days of the request. The company will have 29 fingerprinting sites statewide along with its existing sites in bordering states. Three of the Missouri sites are fixed — two in St. Louis and one in Kansas City — and the other 26 are mobile units. Identix also offered to provide evening hours for its services.
While the new service won’t cost taxpayers a dime, applicants will pay $12.95 in addition to the Highway Patrol’s fees of $14 for a statewide check and $24 for an FBI search. An old-fashioned fingerprint is $5 at the Columbia Police Department and free at the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.
McGrail expects the new private service will allow his division to concentrate its resources on processing the fingerprints instead of capturing them. He said he is unsure of whether applicants will still be able to come directly to the highway patrol for electronic fingerprinting, which has been available there for four years.
He said creating an interface between Identix’s system and the highway patrol’s shouldn’t be a problem because Identix’s livescan machines are already state-certified. However, the company’s technicians must undergo certification through the highway patrol’s one-day training program. McGrail said this will ensure that Missouri’s information requirements will be followed and that the fingerprints are accurate.
Identix can also serve multi-lingual and disabled applicants. The company has a multilingual scheduling Web site and Spanish speakers at its call center. It also has a phone system for the hearing impaired, and its livescan machines can be lowered to accommodate the disabled.
According to an estimate in the contract, new laws passed in the General Assembly in 2004 will generate an additional 96,000 fingerprint cards annually. More than 53,000 prints were processed between January and July 2004.