When the Police Call 911
January 27, 2009
Police officers work in a hostile environment. Danger lurks with every car stop and around every corner. Every modern police department issues its officers bullet-resistant vests to help keep them safe. Departments are very good at being proactive with immediate dangers. Many times, though, they overlook the threats that can affect their officers’ lives over the long haul, such as bloodborne pathogens.
Just one workman’s compensation claim for a police officer can cost a department millions of dollars in claims. Most departments are self-insured, or are part of a joint insurance fund that pays medical and general liability losses. The medical costs can be catastrophic for small departments.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, in the general population, one in 300 people are HIV positive; one in 20 have Hepatitis, one in five have herpes and one in three have some type of bloodborne disease. If the statistics aren’t scary enough, keep in mind that police officers work every day around populations with an increased risk of carrying bloodborne pathogens, such as intravenous drug users, prostitutes and habitual offenders that have been incarcerated in close quarters for the long term. To complicate matters further, many of the people these officers deal with don’t even know they are sick or infectious.
Several lawsuits have been filed by present and former prisoners that have been exposed to bloodborne pathogens due to lack of cleanliness or being forced to occupy or clean up a space that had been contaminated with known body fluids. OSHA mandates police officers receive annual bloodborne pathogens training. However, this training is often inadequate for them to properly decontaminate the eventualities they may encounter on the job. Herein lies the opportunity for the bio-recovery specialist.
Different companies will operate in different ways, depending on location, department size, budget and time constraints, and other factors. For example, we service 70 contracts to clean patrol cars and jail cells, operating with round-the-clock service to get the police department cars and cells back into service fast (95 percent of calls for service are after hours and on weekends).
Bio-recovery companies that decide to offer these services must respond as rapidly as possible. Jobs like this can’t wait until Monday morning (or even until the next morning, for that matter). The service is most valuable to small departments, those that may operate with fewer than four holding cells and 10 patrol cars. For these departments it’s critical to be up and operating as soon as possible because of limited resources; daytime, weekday cleanups are often provided by public works departments.
Properly equipped and trained bio-recovery firms may also find themselves presented with a related opportunity: providing ongoing maintenance service for patrol cars and cells. Holding cells can be deep cleaned using specialized equipment the municipalities don’t have access to or else do not know how to properly use. Cells can often be power washed, with the wastewater recovered for sanitary disposal. Pest control can also be a lucrative offering, especially when department heads see the problem firsthand.
Firms performing patrol car and cell decontamination also have a built-in opportunity to reach new markets: the same departments and officers you are taking care of will turn into some of your greatest champions when it comes to restoration jobs in their communities. Put another way, patrol car and jail cell cleaning is an easy, powerful way to keep your company in front of your current customers and future referrals.
Paying for the ServiceIt would be great if all police departments included emergency service decontamination in their annual budgets, but that’s not always the case. In situations where funds may be otherwise unavailable, explore having the police department recover the cost of your services from the offender. For example, if the police pick up a drunk driver and he vomits in the patrol car on the way to the station (this happens more than you think) the department calls in your decontamination team and they go to work.
Have the billing office send the invoice to the department before the offender is released, and have them attach the invoice to the offenders arrest jacket for remuneration. Just like a fine, the offender doesn’t get their driver’s license back until the department gets reimbursed. This is a win-win situation for all parties involved. Hiring a contractor for cleaning out the cars and cells improves department morale, eliminates occupational exposure for the under-trained, under-equipped police officer and provides proper disposal and remediation outlet for medical waste and other contaminants being removed from department property. Costs for cleanups vary wildly depending on the severity; some companies use police decontaminations as loss leaders, but informal polls show companies typically charge between $150 and $700 a car.
The business of bio-recovery should not be entered into lightly. The same risks that you are protecting the police officers from are dangers that you will face on the job. Proper training and equipment is critical to staying safe on the job. The American Bio-Recovery Association, as well as various for-profit companies, can take your training in the right direction.