Due to a lack of proper background screening policies, an individual with a conviction for sexual assault was approved as a park volunteer.
Investigating The District’s Background Check Policies
The Inspector General for Chicago’s Park District conducted an investigation on the district’s background screening practices. This led to the realization that background checks had not been run on numerous volunteers. According to a report, nearly 1,000 individuals do volunteer work at these locations each year.
Based on the audit, approximately one-third of the volunteers who were approved did not go through a background screening. The results also showed that the District’s policies for vetting potential volunteers are outdated and severely under-resourced. It was discovered that a single individual was responsible for reviewing and considering all potential volunteers for around 600 parks.
The investigation also revealed the District’s procedures were not “reliable for basic organizational purposes such as tracking the number of volunteers in the parks or knowing which of them is actively volunteering.” These red flags that are cause for concern both to the District and park visitors.
A Volunteer With A Serious Conviction Was Approved
During the investigation, the Inspector General learned that several volunteers who had “potentially disqualifying criminal records” were approved because background checks were not run. These individuals would be seen as trusted authority figures by people who visit Chicago parks.
One person who was approved had a misdemeanor sexual assault on his record. This offense occurred in another state, but could have easily been discovered with a comprehensive criminal background check. Had this happened, the individual in question would have been immediately disqualified.
Thankfully, that person did not follow through with volunteering.
The District Takes Action
Following the startling results of the Inspector General’s audit, the Chicago Park District initiated discussions on how to improve their vetting process. There was extra urgency to this as it was also discovered that background checks are not run on volunteers for youth sports leagues that use state-owned facilities.
These discussions resulted in the recommendation of a “top to bottom” re-evaluation of the entire volunteer program, switching from a manual to an electronic record-keeping system and running comprehensive background checks on every volunteer.
To help reassure the public, the Chicago Park District issued the following statement:
"Protecting the children of Chicago is paramount, particularly when they are engaged in programs and activities in our parks. Following the Inspector General’s findings, the Chicago Park District is in the midst of a thorough review of its volunteer management procedures. We will continue to work with the Chicago Children’s Advocacy and the Inspector General to implement best practices with one goal of protecting our children and patrons."
The Urgency Of Consistent Background Screening Policies
It is important for every business and organization to have written background screening policies and follow them consistently. These policies can define when a background check is run, which criminal searches will be conducted and what will be done if a potentially serious conviction is found.
The Inspector General touched on this crucial subject. He stated: “There’s no process by which the deliberation over past criminal conduct is conducted, whether it’s long in the past or recent and insignificant. We don’t show our math on how we clear or reject candidates. There used to be a committee that was impaneled to consider these cases and now there no longer is.”
If you don’t have a written document that explains how you handle hiring and background screening, it’s advisable to create one. When you have something ready, ask your legal counsel to review and ensure it is compliant with relevant laws.
Does Your Business Or Organization Run Background Checks?Whether you hire employees, work with contractors or have volunteers, it is essential to run background checks. Not doing this puts your staff, customers and the public at risk. It can also have a negative impact on your brand.
When you’re ready to run background checks, please contact us. We can create custom screening packages that are ideal for your applicants, contractors and volunteers and schedule annual screening for your current employees. Our FCRA-certified team is highly trained and available to assist you Monday through Friday from 5am to 6pm.