How Crime-scene Clean-up Works


The Business

Emotion and grossness aside, CTS decon is a business, and it can be lucrative. Charges vary considerably from company to company, but a base price up to $250 per hour is considered reasonable by the American Bio-Recovery Association, the industry's main certifying body [source: Kramer]. Costs depend on the type of trauma and the amount of hazardous material at the scene. Particularly large amount of hazardous waste may incur additional fees [source: Kramer].

In the end, most crime scenes cost between $1,000 and $5,000 to clean and decontaminate; a homicide in a single room with a lot of blood might run up to $3,000 [sources: Falcon, Inside Edition]. In rare cases of mass trauma or structural damage, costs can be in the tens of thousands [source: Whitmarsh]. This service is often covered under auto, homeowner's or business insurance. In the case of homicide, the company usually sends the bill to the federal Crime Victim Reparations agency, which provides financial assistance toward the price of remediation. In some communities, religious organizations help cover the cost.

No matter who pays the bill, there is money to be made, and the CTS decon industry has seen enormous growth since its birth in the mid-'90s [source: Lane]. Between 2003 and 2012, even as U.S. crime rates dropped, the number of cleaning companies specializing in crime scenes nearly doubled, jumping from about 300 to about 550 [sources: Mahoney, Davidson]. There are even franchise opportunities [source: Modern Franchise].

Succeeding in this industry means understanding the sensitive nature of the work. Advertising and marketing can be tricky. Some companies choose the standard phone-book route or advertise on the side of their vans. Others focus on more discreet options, like passing out cards at service-industry functions (hotels and motels need clean-ups more often than any other types of business), funeral homes and police stations. Marketing a crime-scene clean-up business means getting to know police detectives, firefighters, paramedics and morticians, who will provide a list of cleaning services to survivors when it's requested [source: Sahadi].

Some people call this growing field a social trend toward the commercialization of death. Some call it simple capitalism. Others call it a godsend. Andrew Whitmarsh, for one, calls it rewarding:"Anyone in this business needs to focus on the positives. They are helping a family or individual through a very difficult time, [and that] will never be forgotten by the clients. They will always remember the team of individuals that were present in their time of need."

Author's Note: How Crime-scene Clean-up Works

This is my second go at How Crime-scene Clean-up Works. The first, I wrote in 2006, with hours and hours of research but without the benefit of an interview. This one, I was lucky enough to be handed an industry contact by my editor, and after communicating with Andrew Whitmarsh, the insight was invaluable. I asked him both business-related and personal questions, and his responses to the latter took me aback. You hear a lot out there these days about the "commercialization of death." And no doubt there are those working in the CTS decon business who see it as a money-making endeavor and nothing more; but any illusions I had of some industrywide callousness in the face of human tragedy were disabused. Mr. Whitmarsh related observations that were sensitive and certainly attached. It would be a mistake, then, to think the decision earn a living cleaning up after tragedy implies a callousness toward it, and many of the additions in this version are intended to reflect that.

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Sources

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  • BBC Health. "Human decomposition after death." April 2008. http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/ask_the_doctor/decompostionafterdeath.shtml
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  • Candland, Dave. "Cleaning Up the Dead." Salt Lake City Weekly. June 11, 2007. http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/article-2614-cleaning-up-the-dead.html
  • Darr, Jeff. "Crime doesn't pay -- the cleanup does." CM Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online. Sept. 19, 2010. http://www.cmmonline.com/articles/crime-doesn-t-pay-mdash-the-cleanup-does-3
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  • Sahadi, Jeanne. "Six-figure jobs: Crime-scene cleaner." CNN Money. April 15, 2005. http://money.cnn.com/2005/02/28/pf/sixfigs_eleven/index.htm
  • Smither, Neal. "Crime Scene Cleaners" . From "Gig: Americans Talk about Their Jobs at the Turn of the Millennium." Bowe J, Bowe M, Streeter S , Murphy D, Kernochan R, eds. Broadway Books. c2001. [Accessed 2006] Available at: http://beebo.org/smackerels/crime-scene.html
  • Sephen, Rosemary. "CSI: Crime Scene Inspection." Elements: Environmental Health Intelligence. May 23, 2009. (Dec. 9, 2013) http://www.elementshealthspace.com/2009/05/23/csi-crime-scene-inspection/
  • Stouffer, Jeffrey. "Bio-Recovery: Seeing Growth and Growing Pains." Restoration and Remediation. July/Aug. 2011. (Dec. 8, 2013) http://digital.bnpmedia.com/display_article.php?id=780816
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  • Washington State Department of Health. "Hazards of Methamphetamine Production." http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/ts/CDL/methhazards.htm
  • Whitmarsh, Andrew. Operations Safety & Compliance Manager, Aftermath, Inc. E-mail Interview. Dec. 2, 2013.

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