Criminal Off The Record: Attorney General Pledges Action

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Flaws in Ohio's Criminal Background Check system give families and law enforcement a false sense of security. 10 Investigates revealed how problems with local courts mean police and employers don't know if they're facing criminals

After investigating this issue for 6 months, Attorney General Mike DeWine admits this is a problem he wants to fix immediately.

"When I became Attorney General, we inherited a ‘Model T’ IT system,” explained DeWine.

Obtaining 3 years of internal Attorney Generals Office emails, 10 Investigates revealed Ohio's criminal background check system is outdated, overloaded and breaking down. 10 Investigates took its findings to Dr. James Wayman, an expert in criminal background check systems.

"That's a much bigger problem, isn't it?” explained Dr. Wayman. “Clearly if I apply for a concealed carry weapon permit and I do have a conviction for domestic violence but  it doesn't show up because of a false negative then I am going to be given that weapons permit and that could be a problem, right. False negatives are not good. They are hard to find."

A 10 Investigates analysis of courts around Ohio shows that 6.6% of court cases have no corresponding arrest on file. It's a small piece of information, but that identifier ties the arrest to the criminal in the state's database.

The Attorney General’s Office says court officials are supposed to fix those errors, but local courts tell 10 Investigates that they don’t have time to fix all the errors.

In other words, police officers, hiring managers, and parents trusting their children's caregivers may not know they're dealing with a criminal.

AG Officials say problems often occur on the front end.

BCI Superintendent Tom Stickrath explained, "In many of those cases, it's important to note that the problem was on the front end, coming from the agency. I don't think we can say that every one of those was some IT failure."

Many Ohio counties don't even send vital court records electronically. Only 18 Ohio counties send them electronically. That's not just counting rural counties. Courts in Columbus, Toledo and Cleveland at least periodically still send their records by mail.

Ohio law requires clerks of court to submit a weekly summary of criminal dispositions, but the criminal system has added features which merit immediate information.  The state offers the Rapback program is designed to alert school officials if a school bus driver or teacher runs afoul of the law.

Despite the IT issues and delays by the courts, the criminal records system is an improvement from where it’s been, AG officials say.

“The system used to be based on fingerprint cards, rolled at a police station, mailed into BCI and then uploaded through our manual process.  Now, for the most part, we receive all of that data almost instantaneously," Attorney General’s Office Chief Operating Officer Kim Murnieks said.

Lori Tyack is Franklin County's Municipal Court Clerk. She believes it's time for BCI to open up and sort this out for public safety. "I think an audit would be beneficial for all us to make sure all of our systems are compatible and we're transmitting information that is being received correctly." Tyack added her office wants guidelines from the Attorney Generals Office on how to handle case files. Tyack said those guidelines have not been updated since 2010.

10 Investigates obtained 3 years worth of internal emails written by state employees running Ohio's background check system. Those employees show frustration with repeated system breakdowns, some lasting for months. 10 Investigates showed those emails to parents at the Worthington Library.

Mother Linnea Birchmeyer said, "It looks like the system is getting old and running down and probably needs more funding, more attention to it.

10 Investigates revealed just how large a problem this is. The Attorney General agrees, but did not give an idea of when exactly it will be fixed. When asked about a timeline to a fix, Attorney General DeWine responded, "I don't know. We're better than we were.  If you look at our total IT structure, we are doing a lot better than we were."

The Columbus Dispatch joined us in this investigation. Read Randy Ludlow's report in the Dispatch Friday for more on the story.

To read see all our segments on this, check out 10TV.com/10Investigates.