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How to avoid bad hires with the right pre-employment background investigation tools

6 ways eSOPH helps investigators dig deep to learn more about applicants faster and more securely


Sponsored by Miller Mendel

By Rachel Zoch, Police1 BrandFocus Staff

Now more than ever, applicant screening has become a key challenge for law enforcement agencies. Police and sheriff’s departments need to know who they are hiring, and public scrutiny has increased greatly following the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody in May 2020.

Hiring is a challenge, but the right software can help background investigators by accelerating the process and giving them more tools, more organized content and the ability to get more information about each applicant.
Hiring is a challenge, but the right software can help background investigators by accelerating the process and giving them more tools, more organized content and the ability to get more information about each applicant. (Getty)

Background investigation has traditionally been time-consuming and costly, but the right background investigation software can aid investigators by accelerating the process and giving them more advanced tools, better-organized content and the ability to get more information about each applicant.

Many departments across the country use eSOPH – short for “electronic statement of personal history” – from Miller Mendel, a platform that helps streamline and enhance the hiring process through integrations with applications that check an applicant’s credit, social media and other elements, and includes features like answer tracking, electronic reference requests and customizable documents and reports.

 Background investigators using the system have consistently reported the software reducing the time for each investigation by more than 50%.

“Our department underwent an analysis that resulted in reassigning many sworn background investigators back to patrol and other high-demand units,” said Captain Evan Petersen of the Riverside County (California) Sheriff’s Department. “With this reduction in the number of sworn background investigators, eSOPH became the essential catalyst we needed for the remaining RCSD and contract investigators to be able to process more background investigations with fewer investigators. eSOPH not only allows our investigators to handle more cases at a given time, but our investigators also gained access to efficiency tools they didn’t have before.”

The CJIS-compliant, cloud-based eSOPH suite has been used by public safety agencies since 2011. It turns a traditionally paper-based process into a fully electronic process and tracks all activity to keep a record of who did what in the background investigation, along with the date and time. This eliminates the risk of a paper getting lost or removed from a file and helps ensure that each file contains all the necessary elements for review.

Here are six ways eSOPH can help investigators dig deep to learn more about applicants faster and more securely.

1. CUSTOMIZATION 

Every agency has different needs, so no system is going be one-size-fits-all. The eSOPH platform is fully customizable so that users can comply with local policies and regulations, as well as manage workflows the way that works best for their agency.

With eSOPH, agencies can use the templates provided, or they can build an unlimited number of their own unique questionnaires, agreements, task lists, exams, reference packets and other documents specific to each position.

You can also customize and manage references by position and reference type, with a customized cover letter, applicant’s release/waivers and a questionnaire. Applicants and references can upload documents and images electronically, reducing time and eliminating paper.

At the administrative level, eSOPH allows departments to add, edit and manage an unlimited number of agency users and permission groups. Different permission levels for different system users helps control access and ensure compliance with privacy regulations.

2. AUTOMATION 

When entering an applicant into the system, simply select the position the applicant has applied for within the system, and eSOPH will send all questionnaires and other documents to be completed online, specific to the position the applicant applied for.

When applicants and references enter data into the system, eSOPH auto-populates dates, recipient names, addresses, agency names, position names and other information across the application without manual data entry. This helps accelerate processing and leaves less room for error.

When the applicant has completed their background documents, the assigned agency user is notified. The built-in tools help reduce the labor required from the background investigator, such as automatic electronic reference generation and receiving abilities. They also make it easier on the applicant and enable faster response and results.

3. INTEGRATION 

Nobody likes having to manage separate logins or toggle between programs that don’t talk to each other. To help reduce frustration and save time, eSOPH includes integrations with third-party software applications, from Microsoft Word to credit reporting through Experian, to give investigators access to multiple critical tools in a single platform:

  • Use Microsoft Word to create, edit and save reference documents, letters to applicants, and each investigator’s narrative reports. All documents are saved directly in the applicant’s file within eSOPH.
  • Request a basic or comprehensive social media and online activity screening report from Social Intelligence. All results that meet defined screening criteria are captured by a trained professional and inserted into a report before that report is released to the applicant’s file within eSOPH.
  • Request a consumer credit report from Experian for the applicant’s file with the simple click of a button – no additional data entry needed.
  • Addresses are validated in real time against the USPS database to ensure accuracy for both applicants and references.

Further, all contact with applicants can be made electronically through email for easy tracking throughout the process. This makes it faster to reach out to applicants and references alike, and it’s especially helpful as agencies recruit younger “digital natives” who expect the ease of electronic communication.

“Since implementing eSOPH, we have seen an increase in reference responses, as references can electronically access the questionnaires and complete them at their own desired time,” said Stephen Cox, workforce planning manager for the Oregon Department of Corrections, a client of eSOPH since 2015.

4. REPORTING 

The eSOPH platform supports custom task lists for applicants and investigators, as well as exam tracking and reporting to help ensure that applicants submit all necessary information and that background investigations are completed in a uniform manner, and all pre-employment steps are documented in one place.

Users can choose from dozens of report templates configured by their agency’s admin user or create their own custom reports. Investigators simply select the report template they want to use and eSOPH auto-populates numerous report fields/sections automatically within the Microsoft Word report document, saving time and reducing the potential for error.

The software also allows agencies to flag specific responses to specific questions to create a triage report that helps investigators quickly prescreen applicants for automatic disqualifiers.

Automated reporting helps background investigators keep track of each applicant’s progress and flag missing items in eSOPH.
Automated reporting helps background investigators keep track of each applicant’s progress and flag missing items in eSOPH. (Miller Mendel)

5. NETWORKING WITH OTHER AGENCIES 

Over 70,000 applicants have been entered into the eSOPH system by various public safety agencies throughout the country, and the system provides the opportunity to network with other public safety agencies for additional information regarding mutual applicants.

When conducting local checks as part of the investigation, investigators can search courts and law enforcement agencies by name or use the patented “search by radius” feature that focuses on a specified area around a given applicant’s current and past residences. The system auto-fills the name, address and all other contact information for the other agencies for follow-up by an investigator.

With a click of a button, the system can fax these checks to law enforcement agencies and courts directly from the system. Faxed responses from other agencies will be automatically routed into the correct applicant file, and a notification about the filing being updated is immediately sent to the investigator – no manual scanning and uploading needed.

In 2019, background investigators for the King County Sheriff’s Office (Washington)uploaded close to 13,500 documents into applicant files. In 2020, the agency processed more applicants yet manually uploaded less than 3,000 documents after implementing the eSOPH smart fax service that routes received faxes directly to the correct applicant files.

Users also can share specific applicant information electronically with other agencies, polygraph examiners, medical providers, psychologists and other third parties.

“Being able to electronically and securely share files with other agencies using eSOPH has been a great benefit,” said Cox.

6. SECURE ONLINE ACCESS & STORAGE 

Because it is hosted on the AWS GovCloud platform, eSOPH requires no local IT resources other than a computer with internet access. This provides easy access to investigators and reviewers along with cybersecurity protections, as AWS GovCloud meets or exceeds regulatory requirements relevant to CJIS, HIPAA, FedRAMP and many other compliance regimes.

“The ability for a unit supervisor to electronically review files from anywhere they can access the internet has proven to be a significant benefit. There’s no longer the need to transfer large paper files up the chain and for other supervisors to lose access to that file as it makes its way through the approval process,” said Petersen. “We also like that the file is secure on an electronic system – there’s no sensitive paper file tracking to be concerned with.”

The data in eSOPH is backed up in real time and saved in redundant, separate geographical locations. Agencies are able to control how long records are kept on the system through configurable, granular automated archive and purging policies. Additionally, agencies are able to download and keep the data on their agency’s internal network or storage devices. There are no limits to the size/amount of data per applicant file.

Law enforcement agencies need to know who they are hiring, and background investigators play a critical role. The more information they collect through a platform like eSOPH, the better they will be able to screen applicants and hire the best possible candidates.

“The software doesn’t replace the background investigator – it enhances their ability to do their job by saving them time and energy without sacrificing quality,” said Tyler Miller, president & CEO of Miller Mendel. “eSOPH gives the investigators more tools, better organized content and the ability to get information they didn’t have before – all while completing the background investigation in half the time. eSOPH has been a huge win for our clients and has really fostered the public trust aspect so many law enforcement agencies are looking for in today’s climate.”

Visit Miller Mendel/eSOPH for more information.

Read Next: How the third largest sheriff’s department in the nation cut its background investigation time in half – without sacrificing quality

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