Louisville's Deadliest Year Reignites Conversation of Unnecessary Crime Scene Cleanup Costs
2020 is Louisville’s deadliest year on record – and the year is not even over. As of October 20, a record-setting 131 homicides have been committed in the city. While skyrocketing rates of violent crime are always a reason for public concern, an often-overlooked byproduct of violent crime is the process of biohazard remediation (crime scene cleanup) which must occur after the scene has been investigated.
Crime scene cleanup is typically handled by private property owners or by private cleaning services in order to avoid ethical and legal complications which could arise from government agencies handling the cleanup process. The private businesses specifically offering biohazard remediation services include Aftermath, Servpro, and Rainbow International. Local carpet cleaners and home cleaning services may also have biohazard remediation capabilities. In many circumstances, the cost of these services is covered by homeowners’ insurance. If the cost is not covered by homeowners’ insurance, however, victims can typically apply for cleanup funding through their state’s Crime Victim Compensation program.
The Federal Victims of Crime Act generally prohibits using compensation funds for property replacement, but it makes an exception allowing individuals to be reimbursed for cleaning supplies or for professional cleanup services. The specifics of this reimbursement, however, vary by state. State compensation processes are administered by state crime compensation boards, and most of these state programs are the payers of last resort, meaning all other payment options (home insurance, etc.) must be exhausted before the state can provide any compensation to victims. Some states, however, do not compensate for crime scene cleanup in any circumstance.
The governing body for victim compensation in Kentucky, the Kentucky Claims Commission, includes the following as compensable expenses in its current policy: medical/dental expenses, funeral/burial expenses, mental health counseling expenses, lost wages, or loss of support. The following are listed as not compensable: property damage or loss (with the exception of eyeglasses damaged or destroyed during the commission of the crime), expenses relating to court proceedings (fuel, parking, lodging, etc.), household living expenses (rent/mortgage, car note, utility bills, etc.), relocation expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium. Among its neighbors, Kentucky is one of only two states that explicitly precludes coverage for crime scene cleanup.
Most crime compensation boards in Kentucky’s neighboring states, including those in Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, cover crime scene cleanup. Ohio covers crime scene cleanup in limited circumstances relating to “personal security, such as doors and windows,” but excludes all other crime scene cleanup expenses. The only neighboring state that explicitly refuses coverage for crime scene cleanup is Indiana.
A description of the crime scene cleanup coverage in Kentucky and neighboring states’ Crime Victim Compensation Funds is below:
This is not, however, the first time this issue has been brought to light. The 2019 Survivors Council Report from the Office of the Attorney General recommended the following to the Kentucky Claims Commission:
“Fund crime scene cleanup as an allowable expense. Victims of many crimes, most
notably homicide victims, cannot currently seek crime victim compensation for cleaning
up the scene of the crime, adding to the trauma of the crime.”
Despite previous advocacy, victims are still unable to receive compensation for cleanup expenses. Kentucky’s lack of crime scene cleanup coverage has disadvantaged victims of violent crime for far too long, and this problem will only worsen amid the deadliest year ever in Kentucky’s largest city. Not only will victims have to endure the physical, psychological, and emotional harm caused by violent crime, but they will also continue to foot the bill for crimes they did not commit.
Violent crime takes an emotional and psychological toll on victims. Having to clean up a crime scene, especially a home, is undoubtedly a traumatic experience. As the number of homicides in Louisville rises to an all-time high in 2020, The Kentucky Claims Commission should make the humane and precedented decision to recognize crime scene cleanup as an allowable expense. It’s time Kentucky catches up with its neighbors and adopts these much-needed reforms.