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All Fingerprinting Services Aren’t Created Equal

Posted by Clint Braswell on Tue, Jun 04, 2013

Misconceptions can be a dangerous thing. From making an organization appear subpar to impacting business decisions, misconceptions are variablesNot all things are created equal that can snow under your business’ objectives. With businesses only beginning to recover and finally see increased margins, these misconceptions need to be minimized. When it comes to fingerprinting services, a common misconception is that all fingerprinting services are the same. Since your employee or student supplies the prints, they would be the main determinant of quality. This, however, is not the case. Not only can the quality vary considerably, but the prints may also not be accepted if they aren’t taken in the right place.

Let’s break down the various fingerprinting issues by agency. We’ll examine the common and popular law enforcement office (LEO) and the trusted agents options of the TSA, as those are the only authorized print collection sites for the programs that we  have at NATA Compliance Services support.

Law Enforcement Offices

While LEOs have always been approved for fingerprinting services, they have never been the most viable option. Their popularity is mostly predicated on their large presence, in that every community has a police station. However, we have noted in past blog entries that a key way to speed up fingerprinting results for the Alien Flight Student Program (AFSP) and for general aviation (GA) is to have prints taken and submitted electronically. However, many LEOs no longer have the ability to take or submit prints electronically. Those that do, are now opting out of taking civilian prints to save agencies money.

Also, it is common for LEO prints to be substandard quality. Fingerprinting training for law enforcement officers is not that intensive or that high quality. Officers tend to view fingerprint training courses as just another obstacle to getting into the field. This is no different than when you were in high school or middle school and had to take that humanities or chemistry course that had no application to what you wanted to do in life. You likely weren’t as engaged or motivated as you needed to be to get the most out of that class. Imagine if you were forced to take a class on something that has minimal connection to what you want to do and is also a task that can be labor-intensive and procedure-driven. That sounds like even less fun. Now consider that same task as part of your day-to-day job. In this case, it becomes like the rookie carrying the equipment. LEOs who are stuck in the office collecting prints would rather be in the field. As a result, you get someone collecting prints who is simply going through the motions to get to greener pastures with little care for quality.

LEOs are popular approved fingerprint collection sites. However, their popularity is for all the wrong reasons. Their quality tends to be subpar at best when it comes to taking prints. Many no longer even collect prints. There are law enforcement offices in every community, but any issues that arise will only cost you and your employee or student time and money.

Additionally, LEOs are now beginning to farm out fingerprinting services to third parties. When they do this, they are no longer an authorized fingerprint collection agency.

Trusted Agents

Trusted agents are a bit more difficult to find but are the pinnacle of quality and professionalism. Unlike LEOs, trusted agents tend to be highly trained professionals when it comes to collecting fingerprints. Trusted agents are approved agencies for fingerprinting services, which is very important. All trusted agents are able to submit prints electronically and a growing number of them are collecting prints electronically. This will help speed up the process, saving you and your employee or student time and money in the long run.

These fingerprint technicians are also highly trained. To become trusted agents, they must go through a comprehensive certification process with practical and written tests in order to be certified.

Unauthorized Fingerprint Agencies

We have discussed how LEOs and trusted agents are authorized fingerprint collection sites. This means that any other site would then be unauthorized. The reason for this, especially with the programs we support, is that there is heightened security around fingerprints. Alien flight students and new employees must both go through heightened background checks, especially when compared to other industries such as food service or retail. As a result, the government has laid out specific procedures that must be followed. Unauthorized sites have not met government standards. While this isn’t to say they can’t meet them at some point in the future, they currently do not meet them, and that is all that matters. As a result, any prints collected through an unauthorized fingerprint agency cannot be accepted. If your student or your employee gets printed through an unauthorized site, the prints will not be submitted and will need to be taken by an authorized fingerprint agency.

Most people don’t knowingly go to an authorized fingerprint agency. Currently, a large number of LEOs are sending individuals needing fingerprints through third parties. This works for criminal prints but is not acceptable for civilian prints for any program that we support. You will want to ensure that the LEO is having the officer take prints and not a third party, as this will invalidate the prints. While this may be a bit confusing, it is best to think of this in the context of seeing a physician for an ailment. If you are seeking medical advice, you want a professional who has proper training and has received any relevant certifications. However, if a friend says that he or she knows someone who’s “close enough” to a doctor but has no medical training, and suggests you see that person, you would hesitate and not necessarily believe this nonprofessional. This is similar to the process of taking prints, in the eyes of the government.

In the end, you can go to an LEO or a trusted agent if you want. To find a trusted agent, click here. If you are uncertain whether a site is authorized, find out if the site is a trusted agent or LEO. If not, then it is likely not authorized.

Finally, if you are looking for a trusted agent near you but cannot find one, click here to learn the requirements for becoming a trusted agent.

Tags: Background Checks, Fingerprinting, AFSP

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