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Inspector General concerned over lack of criminal background checks for Baltimore County employees

Sample of 300 workers showed 20 criminal charges
Baltimore County
Posted at 1:56 PM, Jan 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-06 14:58:44-05

TOWSON, Md. — Baltimore County's Inspector General is concerned over the lack of background checks that general employees in local government are subjected to.

In 2020, a complaint was made to the Inspector General about Baltimore County employing a previously convicted felon, whose position required them to be around private residences, and public interaction.

Up until October 2008, general county employees weren't required to be fingerprinted or undergo a criminal background check before being hired.

According to the Inspector General, that accounts for 1,188 employees who've never had their background looked into. That number represents 34 percent of all Baltimore County general employees and 15 percent of all current County workers.

Between October 2008 and July 31, 2021 — 4,261 applicants have undergone a background check. Of those, 73 were hired despite disclosing past criminal activity.

Despite pre-hire background check requirements now being in place, as of May 2021 they still aren't required for employees getting promoted or transferred.

The Inspector General's report highlighted how the County's Human Resources used no formal matrix, to decide whether an applicant's criminal history disqualified them from seeking employment.

In their response to the Inspector General's report, the county says they do go by such a matrix.

Still the Inspector General criticized a backlog of general employees hired during the pandemic who have already started working for the county, but have yet to undergo a background check.

Their employment was on condition that if anything came up later, they could be terminated.

To prove her point about the dangers a lack of background checks could present, the Inspector General randomly selected 300 current county employees (150 hired before background checks were mandated and 150 hired after), and placed their names into the publicly available Maryland Case Search.

The results showed 20 total criminal charges and 78 potential financial issues.

While some of the criminal charges were still pending, a number of them resulted in convictions, some of which involved assault, battery, robbery, DWI, and illegal handgun possession. A majority of the workers committed the crimes while employed by the County, according to the Inspector General.

As for the financial issues, numerous employees had defaulted on credit obligations, failed to pay rent for extended periods of time, filed for bankruptcy, or had state or federal tax liens filed against them in court.

"The County could be employing individuals with a history, and in some cases, who are actively, defaulting on creditors, evading taxes, or filing for bankruptcy into positions where they have access to sensitive data, process or manage financial information, or are entrusted with the County’s physical assets," wrote the Inspector General.

Current County rules do not require employees to disclose such information. The Inspector General recommended increasing the frequency of random background checks in order to avoid potential security risks.

Although the county said they would modify their disclosure rules, they refused to take the Inspector General up on her idea to increase random background checks.

"We have benchmarked with other comparable jurisdictions and found no jurisdiction that conducts annual or random background checks," the County wrote in response. "Per the Society of Human Resources Management guidance, employers must obtain permission from employees to run background checks pre and post-hiring. SHRM further advises, unless there is reasonable cause for conducting background checks this is not an appropriate action."

The full report can be read below.