More than 400,000 Oklahomans had their backgrounds checked last year so they could pursue everything from legally carrying a concealed handgun to exercising a race horse. Some Oklahoma parents even paid to check out their daughters’ boyfriends. Most checks were limited to Oklahoma, but more than 20,000 involved national searches, according to Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation statistics. Certified schoolteachers, foster care parents and adoptive parents must pass a national check. But people such as child care providers and employees of care homes for the mentally disabled only need pass a state inquiry. "We certainly would love to do anything to make sure the children are safe in child care,” said Janice Matthews, licensing coordinator for the state Department of Human Services’ child care services. The national recommendation is that all child care homes complete national fingerprint-based background checks, a measure proposed for Oklahoma a few years ago. But Matthews said it was dropped because neither the state nor many of the roughly 4,000 mom-and-pop child care centers could afford to pay the $41 fee.
Care homes require check of workersMuch like employees of child care centers, Oklahoma’s care homes for the mentally ill, mentally disabled and seniors in need of assistance require name-search, state background checks. Home of Hope in Vinita now uses a national background search, state Department of Corrections sex offender data searches and other Internet tools to check out employees after hiring a man who was accused of raping a resident in 2008. The home had completed a state background check but former employee Jerald Ray Bishop’s sexual criminal history in California wasn’t revealed. A national background search, available from the FBI through the OSBI when allowed by state statute, would have shown his criminal history in another state, said the care home’s human resources director, Carolyn Chapman. "I would encourage any agency similarly situated to consider that they need to utilize national databases, not relying strictly on the state,” she said. For homes such as Home of Hope, there is no statutory authority to do a fingerprint-based national criminal background check through OSBI and FBI, said Debbie McKinney, OSBI administrative programs officer.
Who receives background checks?McKinney said that a national background search would be more effective for the state’s care homes for the mentally ill and disabled. "But the stumbling block there is cost and timeliness,” she said. State background checks cost $15 and take about 15 minutes. Fingerprint searches cost $41 and take about two weeks, she said. People getting the background check also have to go by the local sheriff’s office or elsewhere to get their fingerprints taken. "But it’s still very, very important,” McKinney said. Oklahoma statutes either require or allow for national background checks by those in 18 categories of business or interests. They range from licenses for locksmiths, bail bondsmen and gem dealers to animal euthanasia technicians, security guards and state Education Department employees who work directly with children. Sylvia Coslow, supervisor of the OSBI record check unit, said her employees use databases to check backgrounds of roughly 1,200 people in an eight-hour day. Some people just want to check their own records, she said. "The majority of background check requests we receive I’d say are for purposes of employment,” said Felicia Jackson, OSBI administrative programs officer. She said the biggest surge in requests have come in the last couple of years for concealed carry permit applications. Last year, the agency processed 22,815 background checks for handguns compared with 9,859 in 2007. Jackson said the agency includes an area asking why the applicant is requesting the background check. She said probably the most unusual requests are the personal ones. "Some of them have written on there that they’re checking out their daughter’s boyfriend. And you can do that, and maybe you should,” Jackson said.