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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Crime

Rick Leventhal

New York, NY

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Garbage Collectors as Crime Stoppers?

January 19, 2011 - 10:19 AM | by: Rick Leventhal

It might seem like common sense.  If the driver of a trash truck spots a crime in progress along his route, or a little kid lost, or smoke pouring out of a window, he calls 9-1-1, right?

Most probably would, but some might mind their own business, which is part of the reason why the mammoth trash collection and environmental disposal company Waste Managment came up with “Waste Watch.”

It’s a program that employs former FBI agents to train drivers and other employees to look out for anything out of the ordinary and gives them the tools to properly document and report the possibly significant events.

The sanitation workers are given cell phones with cameras and short forms to fill out if they spot anything unusual.  They’re taught to use their experience on the job, noting vehicles that may be out of place or doors left open.  Most importantly they’re reminded they’re NOT police officers, just extra eyes and ears on the road.  If they see something suspicious, they don’t intervene.  They call their dispatcher or 9-1-1.

“We hope that all of our drivers would do this anyway…” explains Charlie Cunningham, East Coast Security Director for Waste Management and a 24 year veteran of the FBI, “And with a little bit of training with a little big of guidance they know what to look for and they know how to report it.”

“We’re trying to get the drivers to be proactive” Cunningham continues.  “Not to wait for something to happen but to see something and call it in.  This is about being a good neighbor, this is about being an engaged employee for Waste Management, this is about being linked to the community we live in.  We live in these communities, we work in these communities and that’s what we’re trying to get across not only to our drivers but to the police.”

Waste Watch is now in effect in more than 100 communities and almost every state in the nation, all in coordination with local law enforcement who recognize the benefit of having the men (and some women) at work in the best and worst neighborhoods in town, often in the middle of the night.

In Albany, New York, police heard about the program, asked some questions, then welcomed Waste Watch with open arms.

“We see it as a mobile neighborhood watch” says Detective Jim Miller.  “Our officers can’t be everywhere all the time.  It can’t hurt.”

Driver Ted Mulberry has been on the job for a dozen years and says he has new focus on his routes.

“On most stops you have a feel for what’s right and what isn’t” he says while driving his big front end loading trash truck.  “You’re more likely to notice a strange vehicle or something out of the ordinary.  And it creates a safer work environment for us too.  If you’re paying attention to your surroundings you’re less likely to get out of the truck and get wind up being in the middle of a situation you shouldn’t that you don’t want to be in.”

“It’s almost a sense of civic duty” Ted says, with a wife and three daughters at home.  “For the most part a lot of the drivers live in the communities that we work in and anytime you can help, however small a part, to make the communities a little bit safer everybody wins.”

“It only takes that little bit of time out of your day and you can impact somebody’s life in a huge way.”

On a recent morning Ted saw an elderly man with a flat tire on a busy four lane road who’d taken his spare and a full five gallon gas can and placed them out in traffic to divert cars, creating a potentially dangerous hazard.  Ted called 9-1-1 and State Police were on scene quickly to help the driver and secure the scene.

Ted says he also spoke to a clearly intoxicated man at 3 a.m. and then watched him get in a car and drive off.  He called police and while they weren’t able to find the man, it’s the kind of act that could eventually prevent a serious accident.

Waste Management says the program is free to the participating communities and will continue to expand to more cities.  The company is also offering regular refresher courses to employees to keep them focused not just on collecting garbage but possibly stopping crimes and saving lives.

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