At the end of last month the Borough Council of Eatontown met to discuss an amendment that will require recurring background checks on all members of firefighters and first aid squad members. If passed, this ordinance amendment will require all of these first responders to undergo a fingerprint-based background check every three years that they are a part of the organization. Before drafting the amendment, the idea was discussed first with the first emergency responders who had no objections.
Currently, all firefighters and first aid responders are required to submit to fingerprint-based criminal background checks upon hiring, but there are no follow--up checks. Borough Administrator George Jackson states that "We have no way of knowing in the interim if they have any arrests and convictions. The possibility is that someone could be arrested or convicted in another part of the state and we'd have no idea." Since these first responders have access to people's homes, Jackson wants to ensure that they have no criminal activity on their records for as long as they are working for these emergency first responder units. This will not only bring peace of mind to the civilians, but also help protect these units from any potential liability. Jackson states that the council is also discussing if the amendment should include members of the borough's Office of Emergency Management and Community Emergency Response team. Unfortunately, their membership policies are not as clear cut as those for the fire department or the first aid squad.
Currently, there are no discussions on requiring recurring checks of other employees, such as police officers and civilian employees of the court or law enforcement. Like the firefighters and first aid responders, they undergo an initial criminal background check with no follow-up checks. Jackson states the borough would be aware of police officers convicted of crimes in other jurisdictions. It's unclear how they will become aware, though it's possible that the borough receives reports from other counties regarding their own police officers.
Although having a background check come back clean doesn't necessarily mean that an individual has never committed a crime, it does lend more credibility to these institutions. Currently, Eatontown is one of the first cities in the United States to discuss implementing a recurring background check. Most other cities only do an initial check, with many only doing a county check versus a state-wide and national. Many firehouses have taken it upon themselves to run a recurring background check on their employees and volunteers for liability purposes without pressure from the borough council. There is currently no national legislation requiring background checks on these first responders, and it is therefore up to the county and state to set rules.
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Author: Michael Klazema