Criminals Off the Record: Cobbled System Created Years of Problems

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Most people – whether they know it or not – rely on the state’s criminal background system.

Parents trust that schools and day cares use it to ensure those people watching their children don’t have criminal record; employers use it to know before hiring a person to a position of trust. And law enforcement officials rely on it every time they stop a vehicle.

But that system and other portions of Ohio's computerized criminal records have gaps that could be allowing criminals slip through the system, 10 Investigates found in a joint investigation with the Columbus Dispatch.

10 Investigates obtained three years of internal emails and IT records from the Attorney General’s Office.

Those records show there were more 1,100 criminals who were originally identified as having no record, who were later found to have a record.  In their release of these records, the Attorney General's Office blackened out the names of criminals.

AG Officials said not all those examples are instances where employers were wrongly told the person has no crime.

“This is generally because the prints came in to us incorrectly, and our audit process allows us to notify the employer within about a week,” she explained.

Still, BCI officials went back to employers 195 times last year, said Jill DelGreco, spokeswoman for the office.

After repeated requests that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine take questions on the topic, DeWine spoke today saying he is as frustrated as his staff.

“The simple answer is there’s been millions of tax-payers dollars to take a system we inherited when I became Attorney General that was back, hadn’t been changed, hadn’t been fixed, hadn’t been updated for a long, long, long time,” DeWine said.

More changes to the system will be coming, he said.

Read More: Criminals Off the Record and Slipping Through the Cracks

However, records show breakdowns in the system that leave BCI staff unable to work remain. For example, in March 2014, emails from one supervisor show her staff had problems with one of the primary systems the equivalent of every other day that month.

San Jose State University Professor James Wayman is one of the nation’s primary experts in criminal background check systems, according to industry associations.

“You keep asking the system to do more faster and faster and the system wasn't designed to do that,” Wayman said. “These systems break down quite regularly."

If the background check system can't track arrests and court results right the first time, school districts and day cares wouldn't know if the people they're hiring have criminal records.

It also puts officers on the streets in danger.

“If I'm making a traffic stop and I'm stopping an individual, I need to know in my cruiser, as soon as I can if that individual has a felony warrant, if he has gun charges,” said Sgt. Vincent Shirey of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Software company "3M Cogent" manages the software used in this aging background check system.

10 Investigates uncovered problems going back to 2012 - but learned the AG's Office just sent a letter about fining Cogent less than three weeks ago - on April 6th.

It says employees experience more than 10,000 down hours in 2014 "and continues to perform badly this year as well."  For that downtime, the AG's Office is asking for a credit of $6.2 million.

We asked the AG's Office for copies of reviews of Cogent's work prior to 2014, but none were provided.

Cogent declined an interview, and released a statement.

"3M Cogent has a longstanding, successful relationship with the State of Ohio to supply hardware, software and services pertaining to biometric identification. Our current contract with the Attorney General’s office commenced in July, 2011. Although we respectfully take issue with a number of assertions made by the Attorney General's Office, we are very much looking forward to resolving our differences and continuing to provide the Attorney General's Office and the citizens of Ohio a state-of-the-art biometric identification system."

The AG’'s Chief of Operations said they are looking to replace the system, but a spokesperson speaking off camera limited our questions on the topic.

"You're still satisfied with Cogent? You have full satisfaction with Cogent" Baca asked.

Murnieks smiles, but says nothing as the agency spokeswoman off camera says "Move on."

Dispatch Reporter Randy Ludlow contributed to this report.