New York Initiates Crime Scene Clean Up Legislation

The City of New York has established legislation that requires the proper cleanup of trauma scenes, citing the fact that cleanups often fall into the hands of untrained and traumatized citizens.

Theodore Baecher, Counsel
Jennine Ventura, Policy Analyst



April 25, 2006


INT. NO. 123: By Council Members Nelson, Gentile and Liu

TITLE: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to providing for the cleaning and restoration of crime scenes, on both public and private property.

The Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Council Member Peter F. Vallone Jr., will meet at 10:00 a.m. on April 25, 2006, to conduct a hearing on the New York City Police Department’s (“NYPD’s”) crime scene investigation (“CSI”). In addition, the Committee will solicit testimony regarding Int. No. 123, a local law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to providing for the cleaning and restoration of crime scenes, on both public and private property. The Committee expects testimony from the NYPD, as well as several companies that provide crime scene clean up services.
The New York City Police Department’s Forensic Investigative Division encompasses the Crime Scene Unit (“CSU”), which is responsible for collecting and analyzing evidence obtained at crime scenes and providing expert court testimony. [1] CSU is dispatched for the following crimes: homicide, forcible rape, robbery or hijacking with injury caused by a firearm, aggravated assault with a dangerous instrument where the victim is likely to die, burglaries involving forced safes or circumvented alarms or any other crime for which CSU’s services are needed to assist in the investigation. [2] In September 2003, the Police Laboratory, in conjunction with Orchid Biosciences, Inc., launched the Biotracks program, a pilot project to solve burglaries committed in Queens using DNA evidence. CSU provided training to the Queens Evidence Collection Teams for the recognition, documentation, collection, and submission of potential DNA evidence from burglary crime scenes. The evidence was submitted to the Police Laboratory where it was categorized, evaluated for trace evidence, and subsequently forwarded to private labs for DNA analysis using funding from the National Institute of Justice (“NIJ”). [3] The DNA profiles that resulted from the analyses were forwarded to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (“OCME”), where they were technically reviewed and then uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System [4] (“CODIS”). The OCME and the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services notified the Police Laboratory of all the “hits” received from CODIS, which had resulted from burglary evidence submitted. The Police Laboratory then notified various detective squads, who conducted follow-up investigations to find and arrest the suspects. The Police Laboratory also notified the Queens District Attorney’s Office, which followed up with prosecution.
As of July 2005, the Biotracks project has managed 311 burglary cases involving 537 samples. [5] One of the early cases involving the Biotracks program was the burglary of Nick Haralampopoulos’s house in Queens in January 2004. [6] The burglar left a scarf at the scene, which the police sent to the lab for DNA testing. [7] The DNA in the discarded scarf matched a defendant with prior felony convictions and DNA found at four other burglaries. [8] The defendant, 26-year-old Robert Medina, subsequently pleaded guilty in all five cases. [9] The Biotracks project later expanded into all five boroughs. [10] In March 2006, Biotracks helped solve a burglary in the Bronx where four men kicked in an elderly woman’s front door and proceeded to threaten her with a gun and steal $6,000 in cash. [11]

Forensic evidence has proved crucial in several recent high profile cases, including the investigation into the murder of Imette St. Guillen, a graduate student at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. After the arrest of Darryl Littlejohn, a bouncer at The Falls bar in Manhattan where Ms. St. Guillen was last seen, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes remarked, “It’s almost impossible now for criminals to hide their presence at the scene of a crime. They always leave something behind. It could be as small as a spot on a sweater. It could be a piece of evidence smaller than the head of a pin. It’ll be something, whatever it is.” [12] The forensic evidence implicating Mr. Littlejohn includes a blood match, fingerprints and traces of fur from a rabbit and mink coat. [13] Another case where DNA evidence was featured prominently was the case of Hunter College student Romona Moore in 2003. Ms. Moore was kidnapped, tortured, sexually assaulted and murdered by two men, Troy Hendrix, 19, and Kayson Pearson, 21. A judge-ordered DNA test helped link the defendants to the crime scene. [14] A jury convicted both men of kidnapping, rape, torture and first-degree murder on March 23, 2006. [15]

New York State is also considering ways to further utilize DNA evidence. A State Investigation Commission report, released on March 20, 2006, recommended collecting DNA evidence from anyone convicted of a crime. [16] The bill, [17] passed in the New York State Senate but stalled in the New York State Assembly, would require DNA to be collected from anyone of a felony or a misdemeanor. [18] Currently New York State collects DNA from fewer than half of those convicted of felonies in the state, [19] and is only one of seven states that do not catalogue DNA profiles for all convicted felons. [20]

A. Basic Procedures
Though every crime scene is unique, basic procedures are followed for the clean-up of any scene. [21] First, the immediate surrounding area is contained. Simple biohazard tape can be used to seal off a crime scene if it is indoors, and tarps are typically used to shield the viewing of a crime scene clean-up occurring outdoors. [22] A topical barrier, such as hospital-grade germicides, is then applied, generally by spraying. [23] This procedure prevents airborne dispersion of pathogens, and in crime scenes that have remained untouched for a period of time, serves to liquefy dried blood. [24] Anything that cannot be absorbed by a sponge is frequently packaged and removed after the germicide application. [25] Commonly clothing, shoes and other personal belongings are taken away, but furniture, mattresses, carpeting, flooring and entire sections of walls are sometimes removed as well. [26] After the initial removal, the exhaustive clean-up begins, using sponges, towels and mops, which may be supplemented by vacuums, shovels or even toothbrushes. [27] All supplies are only used once and then discarded; germicides are thoroughly applied during clean-up as well. [28] A last layer of antimicrobial agents is sprayed before a final wipedown of the scene. [29] Cleaning supplies and all materials removed from the scene is destroyed in a medical waste incinerator.
B. Roles of Private Firms and City Agencies
The task of cleaning up crime scenes often falls on grieving families who may lack the emotional and technical wherewithal to handle the job, but increasingly the job of crime scene clean-up in apartments or other private property is done by companies specializing in biohazardous waste. [30] As crime scene clean up is a niche industry, there are only a handful of firms serving New York City that focus on such matters. When crime scenes are in public housing, the New York City Housing Authority becomes involved, employing its own trained workers or hiring private contractors to clean up the remnants of a tragedy. [31] Clean-up responsibilities are more vague when a crime occurs on a public street. The New York City Police Department bears no responsibility for cleaning up a crime scene, and if the scene is on the street, the clean-up responsibility falls on the New York City Department of Sanitation or other appropriate agencies. [32] Even the role of the Department of Sanitation is limited, since it does not handle the removal of blood or human remains. [33] An engine truck from the New York City Fire Department frequently washes down the area with water to clear the remaining debris, although this does not always happen. [34] The few biohazard clean-up companies rarely work on asphalt or concrete. [35] C. Cost of Crime Scene Clean-Up
The New York State Crime Victims Board reimburses up to $2,500 towards the cost of crime scene clean-up, [36] but depending on the circumstances of the crime, the total clean-up cost may exceed that amount. Services at some biohazard clean-up firms start at $600 for cases of minimal decomposition, and the cost can escalate into the thousands for more extensive jobs. [37] The latest clean-up procedures are costly, such as the service of superheating an entire apartment to eradicate microbes. [38] This procedure eliminates the need to dispose of every personal item, and the minimum cost for this process is $3,000. [39]

Introduction 123 makes the city responsible for cleaning a crime scene that “occurs on or within any portion of publicly owned property.” [40] If the crime scene occurs on private property, the NYPD will be required to provide the property owner with “a list of all known companies specializing in the cleanup of bio-hazardous materials,” or to clean the property if the owner cannot pay for cleaning services. [41] Bio-recovery technicians are cross-trained in a multitude of biohazard clean-up techniques, and are equipped to professionally clean crime scenes that property owners and anguished relatives cannot due to physical constraints and emotional trauma.

Int. No. 123

By Council Members Nelson, Gentile and Liu

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to providing for the cleaning and restoration of crime scenes, on both public and private property.

Be it enacted by the Council as follows:

Section 1. Declaration of Legislative Findings and Intent. The task of cleaning the city’s gruesome and contaminated crime scenes often falls on citizens who are traumatized by the events that produced such scenes. Not only are these citizens emotionally and often times physically unprepared to deal with this job, they also lack the appropriate knowledge and/or supplies to safely discard hazardous materials found on site or the ability to effectively decontaminate the premises. It is apparent that serious health and safety issues arise when citizens, and not city agencies and/or private New York crime scene clean up companies, perform this undertaking. Professionals who specialize in hazardous waste cleanup should bear this responsibility, so as to ensure the safe restoration of crime scenes, and to relieve property owners of the psychological and physical burden associated with the obligation.
§2. Chapter 1 of title 14 of the administrative code of the city of New York is amended to add a new section 14-152, to read as follows:
§14-152. Crime Scene Clean Up
a. Definitions. For the purposes of this section, the term “crime scene” means
a) a) the site at which an illegal act took place, and
b) b) a site which contains any of the following types of evidence:
(i) (i) impressions such as fingerprints, tool marks, footwear, fabric impressions, tire marks and bite marks;
(ii) forensic biology including either blood, semen, body fluids, hair, nail scrapings or blood stain patterns;
(iii) trace evidence including gun shot residues, arson accelerant, paint, glass and fibers; or
(iv) firearms, including weapons, gun powder patterns, casings, projectiles, fragments, pellets, wadding or cartridges.
b. Public Property. If a crime scene occurs on or within any portion of publicly owned property, the city shall clean the affected area. Such cleaning shall involve any or all of the following procedures:
(i) (i) the immediate containment of the affected area(s), involving either biohazard tape when indoors, or the usage of tarps when outdoors;
(ii) (ii) the application of hospital-grade germicides to the affected area(s) throughout the cleanup;
(iii) (iii) the initial removal of all materials that cannot be cleaned, including, but not limited to, clothing, shoes, eyeglasses, mattresses, carpeting, and flooring;
(iv) (iv) the detailed cleaning of the affected area(s), by means of a variety of tools and appliances, to be used only once before being discarded;
(v) (v) the application of anti-microbial agents, sprayed on the affected area(s); and
(vi) (vi) a final wipe-down of the premises.
c. Private Property. If a crime scene occurs on or within any portion of privately owned property, the police department shall:
(i) provide the owner of such property a list of all known companies specializing in the cleanup of bio-hazardous materials so as to enable the owner to employ such services; or
(ii) (ii) Clean the property, as described in subdivision b, in the event that the owner can not afford to pay for such services, or chooses not to seek out such services.
§3. This local law shall take effect immediately.

Int 770/2005


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