There is actually a purpose to this blog

Scott Adams - the writer of the 'Dilbert' comic strip - once described a Mission Statement as 'a long, complicated paragraph demonstrating management's inability to think clearly.' Therefore, I'll not call this a mission statement.

This blog is dedicated to informing civilian Park Rangers about topics routine taught to police officers but almost unknown to most of us who wear a uniform, work alone, and confront potentially dangerous on a frequent basis.

This blog is intended to offer suggestions based on my experience, and on my understanding of Maryland Law. It may be different where you are.

That's my mission.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Background Checks? How?

Yesterday, I received an email from a couple interested in camp hosting this coming summer. I sent them information about the park and an application form, as I always do. I also began a 'background check' on them, using my non-law enforcement resources.

As you undoubtedly know, parks are favorite hangouts for sex offenders and others with a criminal bent - those on the lam as well as those looking for mischief. It is up to us as Rangers to protect our parks and our guests, but we don't have access to the tools we need to do it. No NCIC, no criminal histories, no vehicle registration information, none of that neat stuff I used to utilize when I wore a badge.

Over the last several years, I have assembled a list of resources that I use to check out my camp hosts, volunteers, and in some cases, others who frequent the park. None of them are quite as good as the real thing, but taken together, I can find out a lot about somebody when I put my mind to it on commercial sites like,, and a number of others.

I have found that you get different results at different times from the same site. You can't count on always being able to locate neighbors of the person you are checking, for instance, but you can usually find his or her age, current and former addresses (at least former cities), and names of people living at the same address. By checking a number of sites, you can sometimes get a good picture of your applicant. Sometimes, you can literally get a picture, merely by browsing the name and 'Facebook' or 'myspace,' even if you aren't a member. I have found applicants mentioned in newspaper articles, links to professional website listings, and even a list of patents held on one occasion. You never know.

I have about three pages of sites of value; I can send them to you if you ask.

In addition to the commercial sites, you can also access a bunch of government sites, like online court records. These always come in handy in deciding on community service workers, and as I have mentioned before, it is good to drop a bit of information when interiewing them so they think you know more about them than you actually may.

In the case of my applicant, mentioned early in this blog, the first thing I did was run the Sex Offender registry for his state. What do you know? The first listing of the surname I was looking for has the same address as my man. And a boatload of offenses.

It took me a bit of searching but, thanks to the web, I eventually developed the theory that the offender was most likely the older brother of the applicant, and they shared the house with the applicant's son and wife (whose previous name, age, and previous addresses - and apparent lack of criminal record I soon determined). Before I make a decision on whether or not to 'hire' him, I will confirm his identity and check him out with the State Police in his home state, but it could be that I dodged a bullet in this case by identifying a sexual predator.

A bit of sage advice here - keep your sources under your hat. Especially, don't mention that you didn't select somebody based on a website's information. Require and interview references; if the applicant feels wronged, let him suspect they are the reason. Better yet, don't say why - just tell the applicant, "It just didn't work out this year - maybe another time."

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