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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah law requires security guards to be licensed by the state, but getting that approval increasingly takes more time.
The reason: Guards must get in line with employers, landlords, public agencies and other entities trying to ensure they're not getting tangled up with crooks. "The sky's the limit in the post 9-11 world," said Ed McConkie, director of Utah's Bureau of Criminal Identification, the state agency charged with conducting the checks. "Everybody wants to know everything about everyone," he said.
The bureau passed a milestone in November. "We now get more criminal history requests from non-criminal entities," McConkie said. "It demonstrates the change in society's needs."
Background requests, which include fingerprint checks with the FBI and a seven-state regional database, total about 15,000 monthly. BCI's staff of 10, working nearly around the clock, is only able to complete about 10,000 each month, McConkie said.
In 2004, BCI ran 31,841 fingerprint checks. In 2006, that number jumped by nearly 20,000 to 51,780, and the agency continues to experience record growth.
Records show the checks were conducted for 224 different agencies or companies, including police departments, schools, water districts, churches, mortgage lenders and a motorcycle club.
BCI's expanded role can be partly attributed to Utah lawmakers, who made the background checks available to industry. Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a bill requiring criminal checks for workers in higher education. Hours later, they also cut BCI's budget by more than $650,000, McConkie said.
BCI's traditional role was to supply criminal-background information to law enforcement. That meant checking applicants for police jobs, providing information during traffic stops and screening people who wanted to buy guns or get a concealed-weapons permit.
Since 1995, the agency's job also included checking applicants for security-guard licenses and corporate officers at security companies.
As BCI's demands grew, Utah's Division of Professional Licensing, which accepts or rejects security-guard applicants, began looking for a way around the delays.
Over the past year, the agency began using a system called IDENTIX to conduct on-the-spot application checks through an information database, allowing officials to issue temporary licenses. That allows people can go to work and get training while BCI completes fingerprint checks, said Clyde Orman, who oversees licensing of 13 professions.
The system has cut the wait to about eight days from nearly five months, Orman said. "That was getting to be a really hard thing for people," he said. "Sometimes you'd get people's background checks back and you'd have to deny them, even though they'd already been working for 90 days."
Only about 10 percent of the roughly 2,400 annual applicants are rejected due to their criminal histories, Orman said. Most get disqualified for lying -- usually about their troubles with the law. "The falsification issue is a biggie," he said. With the scope of BCI's work expanding, and the number of concealed-weapons permit requests rapidly rising, McConkie fears public safety could suffer. "I'm concerned that in a couple of years when a trooper makes a traffic stop and does a license plate check, we'll be so far behind in our information that the trooper won't have confidence in the information we provide," McConkie said. "That gets down to life-and-death information," he said.
BCI also hears a steady number of complaints about the system's sluggish pace, which sometimes means lost jobs or apartments that stay vacant, McConkie said. "Society is going to have to come to grips with this and set up a system that is intended for this 21st century phenomenon," he said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)