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Homicides, suicides, methamphetamine labs, pack-rat houses, and decomposing bodies… it’s all in a day’s work for crime scene cleaners. College degrees are not required, but a strong stomach and constitution, the ability to distance yourself from pain and at the same time remain empathetic to victims, and training in the removal of biohazard material is required. This isn’t just house cleaning on steroids, but a truly specialized industry that does a very difficult and oftentimes dangerous job.
Body fluids including blood and urine, fecal matter, skin, tissue, and organ matter can all pose serious health risks in the aftermath of a violent crime. Police, investigators and crime scene techs pour over scenes to secure and record evidence, but they do not clean up. In the past, this gruesome job was left to family members, a landlord, property owner, or others.
In the United States, crime scene cleaners belong to the Crime and Trauma Scene Decontamination industry, better known as CTS Decon. Crime scene cleaners follow protocols and guidelines including the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standards, and are skilled in the proper handling, removal and disposal of biohazardous materials. Just a few of the tools used by crime scene cleaners include HAZMAT suits, respirators, steam-injection machines, enzyme solvents, industrial grade disinfectants and deodorizers, chemical-treatment tanks and garden-variety tools such as shovels, putty knives, picks and razors.
Cleaning up after a violent crime can be a painstaking process. Bits of bone can end up embedded in walls, blood splatter can find furniture, window dressings, knick-knacks or chandeliers. Pooled blood can seep through carpets leaving only a small stain above, but a wide swath on floorboards below. Unlike the average person, crime scene cleaners know how to remove every bit of biological matter from the scene, returning it to a pristine condition.
In addition to violent crimes, CTS Decon is also used to clean up illegal meth labs. Residue from the toxic, highly dangerous chemicals used to make methamphetamine can remain on walls and furniture, causing health risks for years to come. In extreme cases, crime scene cleaners might be forced to remove drywall, flooring and ceilings, leaving only structural studs.
CTS Decon might also be called in on cases that involve compulsive hoarding. People with a compulsive hoarding disorder are compelled to save everything and will build up astonishing amounts of waste in a home over a period of years. In some cases rooms are filled to the ceilings, requiring tunnels or maze-like pathways to get around the dwellings that are not only fire hazards, but health hazards. Shame and reclusiveness often accompany this disorder and it is not uncommon that a hoarder die alone in the home, found later by worried neighbors or family. Once the body is removed, it is the job of crime scene cleaners to remove the tons of acquired garbage and decontaminate the scene.
Crime scene cleaning services range in price from $100 to $600 US Dollars (USD) per hour, depending on the degree of cleaning required. Biohazardous materials such as contaminated carpets and furnishings must be removed and properly disposed of, adding to price. In some cases insurances services or the Crime Victim Reparations agency will cover the cost.
Sometimes I think I would want to join a crime scene clean up crew, because it would pay a lot better than my current custodial job and after 20 years as a janitor, I think I could handle any sort of mess that could be made. I understand that crime scene cleaners need training before they can go out on calls, but I had to get specialized training on my present job, too.
We had a double homicide a few years ago at a chain hamburger restaurant I will not mention. The manager was shot in the head after he refused to open the store safe, and an employee was shot in the chest by a disgruntled ex-employee. Another manager discovered the bodies after several would-be customers reported they couldn't see anyone working in the restaurant.
The crime scene investigators did everything they needed to do, and the police did capture the suspected shooters and their get-away driver. But the restaurant itself was a horrible mess, and the company called in professional crime and trauma scene cleaners. Because it was a restaurant that served food to the public, it took months before they could re-open. All of the interior walls and cooking equipment had to be torn out completely and replaced.
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