New York County Wonders about Background Checks for Assistant Coroners

By Michael Klazema on 12/23/2014

Legislators in Cayuga County, New York are wondering whether or not they should implement background checks for assistant coroners working in the area. These officials work frequently at death scenes to collect sensitive or valuable materials from the deceased, including medications and jewelry. However, assistant coroners are evidently not subject to any sort of background check by the county, even though they are government employees.

The fear, it seems, is that assistant coroners could easily steal items from death or crime scenes without anyone noticing. From valuables to prescription meds, the deceased often leave behind items that an assistant coroner might feel inclined to pocket for personal gain. In other words, recovering these items and keeping track of them is an important job that relies a lot on the honor system. Background checks would help make sure that assistant coroners are trustworthy and well-trained individuals.

The County Sheriff for Cayuga acknowledged the hefty responsibility inherent in the assistant corner job. He also said that the city might look bad a theft or some other breach of responsibility occurred with one of these coroners. That would be ever truer if the assistant coroner in question had a criminal history that might have predicted his or her actions. Such an incident would make it appear that the county wasn't doing its due diligence in hiring or managing staff.

For that reason, a Judicial & Public Safety Committee for the Cayuga County Legislature is mulling over the prospect of background checks for coroner's assistants. One legislator was worried about stepping on the toes of the county's lead coroner, an elected official who appoints his or her own assistants. If the Judicial & Public Safety Committee implemented background checks for assistant coroners, the legislator thinks that the committee would end up having too much say in who was hired to those positions.

That particular fear seems like an odd one. All manner of elected officials, from town mayors to the President of the United States, appoint staffs. That doesn't mean those staffs should be exempted from background checks, or that the action of requiring background checks takes power away from the elected official. On the contrary, the official still gets to propose appointments: their chosen staff members merely have to pass background checks to prove their trustworthiness and fitness for the job at hand.

In any case, it's fairly clear from the sidelines that any individual trusted with handling the belongings of the deceased should be background checked. As grave robbers throughout history would attest, it's fair easier, in most cases, to rob the dead than to rob the living. If background checks could help prove that Cayuga County's assistant coroners are trustworthy enough to avoid that temptation, then those checks should be in place.


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