Can Police Run a Background Check on Anyone?

Many people in today’s world utilize caution around police and want to make sure that they stay informed on their personal rights throughout an encounter with a police officer. For that reason, many individuals may be wondering when police are legally allowed to run a background check on someone and what a police officer might see as they review this information.

Our article gives you further detail on this to help you stay informed of your rights and aware of what valid background checks might show.

Why Do Police Run Background Checks?

Police run background checks on individuals when they need more history about that person’s education, employment, or living history, or if they need to locate records regarding prior criminal offenses.

It’s important for police to know this information about individuals that are in their custody or those that might have a warrant out on them, so they know how to approach a situation for the safety of everyone involved.

You should note that when a police officer pulls you over, they aren’t running a background check on you – they are most likely running your plate and identity information to determine if you have any outstanding warrants. Background checks are a separate, more intensive search into your personal and criminal history.

Things a Police Background Check Might Uncover

A proper police background check is designed to uncover criminal convictions, previous felonies, misdemeanors, and sentencing information, outstanding warrants, arrest records, and vital personal histories such as addresses and places of employment.

Because this information is highly personal, there are certain restrictions surrounding when police can run a background check on someone and how they use the information they discover.

When Is It Legal for Police to Run a Background Check?

Though legalities depend on specific state and federal laws, in most cases, police officers can only run a background check on someone if they have ‘just cause.’ This means that the person in question must be part of an investigation or the police officers have other proven needs to access this background check information on a person.

Background checks in most states must be authorized by the individual due to the amount of highly sensitive information contained in them, and conducting a background check on an individual without just cause can result in repercussions for the police officer conducting the check.

Some scenarios in which it would be legal for police to run a background check on an individual include:

  • They are investigating the person in question in connection to a crime
  • They are checking to see arrest warrants or prior convictions before issuing another arrest warrant
  • They need information on an individual before proceeding to carry out a search or arrest request

Scenarios in which it might be illegal or problematic to run a background check on someone include:

  • Checking out a neighbor or other individual at the request of a friend
  • Looking up information about an individual out of curiosity or just for fun
  • Using background search privileges to vet potential dates ahead of time

It’s important that you check with your state’s specific disclosure and privacy laws for more information on scenarios in which police officers can access your background check information legally. Doing this helps you to stay informed about your rights to the best of your ability.

What Can I Do if Police Have Run an Unauthorized Background Check?

If you believe that a police officer or officers have run an unauthorized background check on you, your next step is to contact a legal professional in your state. Lawyers that specialize in criminal justice and have experience with protecting the information of their clients are recommended in this type of situation.

Depending on your state, you may also be able to file a complaint with the police station or headquarters where the offending officer works.

Staying Informed of Your Background

When it comes to background checks and any information that’s on your personal record, it helps to stay informed of what might show to individuals viewing this report. Check your own background and any potential criminal offenses that might be included in your report by utilizing the tool on

Once you review this information, you can further understand what your rights might be and any potential problematic items that are included in your background check report.

Additionally, don’t hesitate to reach out to a legal professional for assistance if you believe an unauthorized background check has been conducted on you without just cause. There are only a few circumstances in which police officers can legally conduct background checks, and individuals with access to this information need to be held accountable if they violate the privacy of unsuspecting individuals.

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