Waste Fleet Drivers Assisting Police in Community Watch Programs

Waste Fleet Drivers Assisting Police in Community Watch Programs

With the hopes of aiding law enforcement efforts in cities from Sacramento, Calif., to Fairfax, Va., and places in between, Republic Services Inc., Waste Management Inc. and other haulers are teaming up with police departments by participating in community watch programs.

Drivers are being trained to recognize and report suspicious activity as they see it.

Republic Services takes its role as a community partner very seriously, and is dedicated to being a good neighbor in the communities where its’ employees live and work, says Mike Caprio, area president of Republic Services.

“This includes investing in programs that make safety a top priority, and doing what we can to protect our employees and customers,” Caprio says.

At the same time, in Farmington, N.M., police were training 20 Waste Management employees on what to watch out for as they work their collection routes.

Waste Management has been assisting law enforcement in its collection areas for years, but just last month added Farmington to its Waste Watch program. The company trains the employees to watch for problems, hazardous conditions or criminal activity. When a driver notices suspicious or dangerous activity, they notify local authorities to respond.

Republic Services of Sacramento, which employs 184 people, serving 92,000 residential and 11,000 commercial customers in the metropolitan area, has the potential to cover a lot of ground.

The Sacramento-area program, which includes the police departments of Sacramento, Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and the Sacramento County sheriff’s department, involves Republic drivers communicating with law enforcement when they see anything they perceive to be out of the ordinary.

In Fairfax, Republic has 270 employees serving more than 125,000 residential and 5,000 commercial customers throughout northern Virginia.

“The local Republic drivers are in our communities every day. They see what might need police assistance,” said MPO R. Wayne Twombly, crime prevention officer with the Fair Oaks District Station. “We want them to report what they see. They are an asset to every community.”

Last month, local law enforcement officers in each program trained Republic drivers, dispatch operators and team supervisors to observe and report any suspicious activity, traffic accidents or other emergency situations. Training also included covering the proper response protocols when someone needs assistance from authorities.

Should a driver identify suspicious behavior along the collection route, they will use an existing two-way radio communications system to alert dispatch of the unusual circumstances. Republic dispatch personnel then will contact the appropriate authorities.

When drivers see something unusual, police are requesting that those drivers and Republic make a call, says Andrew Bornhoeft, crime prevention officer with the Elk Grove police department during the training near Sacramento.

Experienced drivers, he said, have an idea of when something is out of place or suspicious.

“We’re excited to partner with Republic Services,” said Joes De La Cruz, deputy and youth services officer/PAL director with the Rancho Cordova police department, in a press release. “These drivers work and live in our communities, and are actively working to make our communities a safer place.”

As budget cuts impact police and cities across the U.S., community watch citizen groups and others are helping these departments keep up. Waste collection drivers for years have been helping citizens along their routes, from alerting residents about fires, performing CPR or, in one case, even returning a bag filled with thousands of dollars worth of checks from a PTA fundraiser. But in San Jose, the city is considering upping the ante where waste haulers are concerned.

Proposed budget and police pension cuts in San Jose have even inspired a suggestion from San Jose Councilman Johnny Khamis of the city’s 10th district. Khamis has requested the city consider attaching license plate readers (LPR) to garbage trucks servicing the city. The scans would be able to alert enforcement on hits for vehicles that may have been involved in a crime. 

Khamis says collection drivers would not have access to the information of the owners whose plates are instantly read by these plate scanners. The information would be sent to police for taking the pertinent steps.

In an opinion piece written for the San Jose Mercury News, Khamis defended the idea to use technology for the good of the city.

“We have the opportunity to use this technology, not for commercial enrichment, but to enhance the public's safety. That is why I, along with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilman Raul Peralez brought forward our proposal to explore the feasibility of placing license plate readers (LPRs) on San Jose's garbage trucks.”

The city, he said, is cognizant of the privacy concerns.

LPR technology already is in daily use in police vehicles. The cameras have been instrumental in developing information on significant incidents. LPR-equipped cars are often employed at major crime scenes for vehicle documentation, and information obtained from LPRs has been used to assist other law enforcement agencies, Khamis wrote.

While the city has yet to act on the councilman’s idea, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has supported the idea as long as civil liberties are not at issue. Khamis has promised to look more seriously at the concept of license plate readers and what place they could play in community watch. The city’s budget already includes funds for additional license plate readers, whether they will end up on the front of a garbage truck, has yet to be decided.

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