Robert Melia, Jr is a former New Jersey police officer who, in April of 2008, was convicted of sexually assaulting three young girls. At the same time, he was also charged with engaging in a sex act with several cows; however, those charges were dropped because bestiality isn’t considered a crime in New Jersey. Shortly after being charged with these crimes, he renewed his emergency medical technician (EMT) certification and checked “no” in the box that asked if he had ever been charged with a crime. Two years later, the health department suspended his certification, but that was only after a member of the public made officials aware of Melia’s past crimes. Melia was finally convicted of sexual abuse in April of 2012.
This incident revealed that EMT’s working in New Jersey do not need to undergo background checks, a fact that is a bit unbelievable due to the level of trust placed in their hands. State officials claim that only a fraction of the 29,000 certified EMT’s would have criminal records that would keep them from keeping their certification, but proponents of background checks on EMT’s counter that, saying most residents of New Jersey may not even know that the people coming to help them haven’t been properly checked out.
NJ.com reports that New Jersey has disciplined EMT’s in the past to include:
- 26 individuals impersonating an EMT
- 17 individuals charged with sexual assault or other sex crimes with nine involving minors
- 10 individuals charged with possessing or distributing child pornography.
- 7 individuals charged with theft
- 7 individuals who caused or contributed to the deaths of five people, some of which were when they were on duty.
David Knowlton, who is the president and CEO of New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, stated, “We do these checks on police and firefighters. We shouldn’t put people in positions of incredible trust without some sort of check on that.” Knowlton’s group began a push for background checks on EMT after a man was arrested for publically masturbating after he took a patient to the hospital. He was not actually a certified EMT and also served eight years in prison for drug possession as well as robbery and weapons charges.
Last year, the legislature in New Jersey passed a bill which would have created an overhaul of the state’s emergency response system, requiring background checks on all EMT’s and allowing close monitoring of them while on the job. However, Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill, citing cost concerns and the impact it may have on volunteer groups. The bill has been reintroduced and is going through legislation again.
NJ.com also noted that while not required by the state, many hospitals and ambulance companies already conduct independent background checks on their EMT’s out of liability concerns. Hopefully, the State of New Jersey and their Governor will see the importance of criminal background checks as well on the people entrusted with their citizens well-being.