Thursday, March 23, 2006

Conflict of Interest

As a result of the fire, we had a professional clean up company come in and give an estimate for cleaning the furniture in the house. The disaster clean-up specialist showed up several hours late with the simplest of explanations:

- Sorry I'm late. There was an emergency at UNM we had to take care of.

Did he say emergency? That can only mean one thing - excitement! And when you're crammed into a smoky closet for several hours swabbing the walls repeatedly with a paint roller, there's nothing you crave more than a little excitement. I asked him about it.

- You know the steps at Onate Hall? They were covered with blood. I mean completely soaked, and then there was this blood trail leading off that disappeared into the alley. Looks like a stabbing.

A stabbing. This is Albuquerque - annually, there are 3 stabbings for every resident. Stabbing someone is the equivalent of saying hello or "Hey, you up for a cup of coffee?" In other words, my interest was not piqued, but he did get me thinking about his business. For the family-owned disaster and crime-scene cleanup company, there seems to exist a moral conflict of interest based on two diametrically opposed interests:

First, living with their relatives and children, it's not a stretch to assume that contract employees and the owners would love the community to become a safer place. Fewer fires, fewer floods, fewer mutilations would be progress that everyone would appreciate.

On the other hand, as crime rates drop so does business. If crime dries up completely the crime scene cleaners are going to find themselves working at Merry Maids, which pays a hell of a lot less. Does that mean if they were ever posed the underlying question here, they would respond with "The key is finding a healthy balance between safety and profits?" It seems unlikely, which leads to another question -
what does it feel like to be deeply involved in a profession that morally you wished did not exist?

Although this position isn't unique to the crime scene clean-up industry, it's quite rare. The case of a soldier or a policeman is different. Those jobs exist
before the conflicts and help to prevent them, crime scene cleanup exists as a result.

In any case, he wanted to charge $1200 to wipe down a table and deodorize a couch so maybe he deserves a little moral dilemma to keep him awake at night in his 275-thread count Egyptian hand-woven sheets.

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