Taking care of [police] business

The Kingston, Ont. police department says its new, automated “background check” system saves its staff valuable time, while enhancing customer service.

The online system, which automates processing of background checks, was developed in partnership with Unis Lumin Inc., an Oakville, Ont.-based provider of IT products and services.

The Kingston police background check service screens applicants to ensure there aren’t any criminal records attached to their names.

The service, which is offered to Kingston residents, has a wide-ranging clientele, said Scott Geoffrey, director of information services at the Kingston Police. Customers include local businesses that require employee checks, people who work with children, such as day-care providers and teachers, and volunteers with charitable organizations.

Geoffrey said the new, automated system has made things much easier for all these customers.

In the past, he said, people who wanted a background check had to travel to the police station to show their ID, submit a detailed form and make the $15 payment. After a one to two-week processing period – during which police staff searched through local and national criminal databases – applicants had to return to the police station to pick up the form confirming their backgrounds were clean. “Due to privacy requirements, we can’t mail the forms. We need to make sure only the right person receives the information.”

And it wasn’t just applicants who had to expend a great deal of time and effort. Police staff doing the screening experienced the same challenges.

According to Geoffrey, this problem intensified in recent years, as applications submitted for processing increased significantly. In the late 1990s, about 1,000 background checks were done each year. Today, that number has grown to about 8,800.

As application volumes swelled, manual processing became burdensome, and the Kingston Police decided to automate the process.

They submitted their business requirements to Unis Lumin about two years ago, and the company offered them a hosted e-commerce service. “We had a generic product that satisfied many of their requirements,” says Chris Herbert, marketing manager at Unis Lumin. “We worked with them to tailor it to their needs.”

Automating the processing of sensitive background check applications required some security-related features.

To prevent security problems, no incoming Internet traffic is allowed onto the Kingston Police’s network, explained Geoffrey. Police staff log on to Unis Lumin’s network, and pick up the applications to conduct the background search.

Once police complete the search, the applications are purged from Unis Lumin’s server. Credit card information is passed on in real-time to Paradata, an Internet payment processing service provider, and is never stored on Unis Lumin’s server. A generic e-mail notifier that contains no names or other identifying information is generated to the applicant’s e-mail address to let them know the background check is complete and ready for pick-up in person with appropriate ID.

Since no changes were required to the Kingston Police’s system, implementing the system was simple, Geoffrey said, adding that there were some minor glitches. For example, the system only works with Internet Explorer, so Unis Lumin is making changes to make the system browser-neutral.

The deployment, Geoffrey said, has benefited everyone involved. Customers now need only make one trip to pick up the form once it’s processed. Time spent by police staff at the counter has also been reduced. More time and labour savings are expected in phase two of the project.

The Kingston Police plan to extend the system to automate the search process itself, which is still handled manually. It will be designed to download the customer application to the records management system and generate an automated search query. This will further reduce time spent by police staff on searches, said Geoffrey.

Human verification of the final information will still be needed to ensure it’s accurate, he added.

Geoffrey notes that though Kingston’s population is only around 116,000, the police receive 8,800 requests for criminal background checks annually. “Imagine the volumes processed by the Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver police departments,” he said, adding that their prototype system, once fully developed, could provide major savings in time and labour to other jurisdictions.

Unis Lumin, said Herbert, has had discussions with the Hamilton and Durham police, and is also in talks with the Ontario Association of Police Chiefs to gain a better understanding of the information and system requirements police organizations need to automate and integrate their processes.

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