Taking Bite Out Of Grime

March 28, 1995|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

Former Washington, D.C., police officer James P. Koons used to clean crime off the streets. Now he's cleaning grime from houses.

Mr. Koons' 6-week-old business is called Sgt. Cleanhouse. It's a slow-growing venture that he hopes will catch customers with his promise of safe, quality cleaning without the risk of theft.

The resident of Columbia's Owen Brown village says he never anticipated being a police officer-turned-cleaner, but he's found the two careers mesh well.

"It's a whole new line of work," Mr. Koons said. "But it still makes people happy."

"There's a certain satisfaction you get out of doing something for somebody that's productive," Mr. Koons said. "In the police department, almost nobody was happy about what you did. It's thankless out on the street."

Mr. Koons used to carry a Glock 9 mm handgun, Mace, handcuffs, a night stick and a police radio. Now he's hauling a broom, mop, window cleaning fluid and Comet.

"They're a little larger and [awkward] to carry around, but they're more effective," he said.

The whole idea of a cleaning service, he said, began with a conversation with a friend about a person who had gotten "cleaned out" by a private house-cleaner who ended up stealing property.

Howard police say that claim is not uncommon, though the department does not categorize those crimes in its statistics. Residents often accuse cleaning services of unsolved thefts in their homes, because the cleaners are often the only nonfamily members around, said Sgt. Steve Keller.

Mr. Koons says his business is different from other similar cleaning services because his employees -- now only two -- must go through background checks and his watchful eye can spot any safety hazards that could result in burglaries.

Mr. Koons said he had thought of starting his own business, something he could start at a low cost. So, just as an experiment, he began cleaning a couple friends' houses, a chore he said he had grown used to in cleaning his own split-level home.

He liked it, and about two weeks later, on Feb. 14, Mr. Koons resigned from the Metropolitan Police force after five years.

Police co-workers said they were not surprised when then-Officer Koons opted to try a different profession.

"He was always industrious," said Metropolitan Police Officer Rodney Young. "[Police work] is a dirty job and somebody's got to do it. But he was out of character. He was too creative."

Mr. Koons' job choice may cost him a substantial decrease in pay. Where he earned about $33,000 as an officer, now he is struggling to keep pace with that amount in his fledgling business.

He wants to focus his business in the Columbia-Laurel area, at least until business picks up. But for now, he said, he's willing to travel to get business and has made trips to Takoma Park and Gaithersburg.

He works for about 10 customers he hopes to keep as regulars. A few customers have responded to ads in a local paper; others have been recommended by friends.

Mr. Koons charges as little as $40 to clean a condominium and as much as $75 for a house, he said. His plan is eventually to clean about six homes a day.

"It's always easier cleaning somebody else's house," he said.

His parents used to have to force him to clean up his own messy room, he said, but his cleaning habits improved as he grew older, and now he has strategies.

"I usually start with the bathrooms," he said. "They seem to get the dirtiest. I dust, vacuum, mop floors and wipe ceilings. Kids are tough though. They put stains everywhere, and pets leave a lot of hair around. It's a lot to clean."

But Mr. Koons said each house is different, that's what keeps the job interesting.

"It's satisfying," he said. "You shine it up, make it look good and say, 'Ah, that's nice.' "

Mr. Koons says his cleaning job is a far cry from patrolling North East Washington near RFK Stadium, where he handled domestic disputes, drug dealers, drunken residents, stabbings and shootings. "I didn't see that as something I wanted to do for 20 more years" when he'd qualify for a pension, he said. "It's depressing."

"I wouldn't be upset if I didn't get anymore gunshot calls. There's no comparison. I'd much rather get a messy house call," Mr. Koons said. "When I get a call to clean somebody's house my heart doesn't race. I'm not going to rush over there 65 mph with a gun drawn -- maybe with my mop drawn."

Customers say they are happy with his work.

"He's true to his word," said Peter McGettrick, a Laurel real estate agent who says his bachelor lifestyle doesn't give him a chance to do thorough housecleaning. He has hired Mr. Koons to clean his townhouse twice, leaving the cleaner alone with house keys each time.

"It makes me feel confident not to worry about somebody being there," Mr. McGettrick said. "It helps."

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