Traveling a garbage route each day, a driver becomes attuned with the area. Waste Management (WM) of Utah driver Jaime Rubio is no exception. “When you're out there in the same neighborhoods day after day, week after week, you get to know the people that live there,” he says. “You get to know them by name. You know their families and how many people live in their homes. When you see somebody that doesn't look familiar…” Rubio stops, possibly recalling a 2002 incident in which he had sensed something amiss. Thanks to training he received as part of WM's Waste Watch program, Rubio knew how to respond.
Established three years ago, the Waste Watch program trains drivers to be aware of their surroundings, acting as another set of eyes on the street. WM of Utah, which services 23 cities along the Wasatch Front, has been “crime watching” for a year and a half, just in time for Rubio to help the residents along his route.
On one occasion, as Rubio stopped at one of the nearly 1,000 homes he visits each day, he noticed an unfamiliar individual in the backyard, who ducked away after spotting his vehicle. Rubio immediately notified his supervisor and, soon after, the sheriff's office responded. Luckily, no crime had been committed. “You know [when] something doesn't look right,” Rubio says. “But, in my mind, I believe I helped out.”
All of Utah's nearly 130 WM drivers receive the Waste Watch training. Working with the police department, drivers receive the same training as neighborhood watch groups. WM Manager of Community Programs Susan Hayward says that drivers are trained not to intervene under any circumstances. “What they're trained to do is observe and report,” Hayward says. If drivers notice any suspicious activity, they are instructed to drive to a safe place and report the incident to dispatch or, if the situation is more serious, call 911. “We're not officers. We're not policemen,” she says. “We're just there to observe.”
In addition to reporting suspicious individuals, WM drivers also have reported abandoned vehicles that appear to be stolen, accidents and fires. For Hayward and Rubio, the Waste Watch program is just an extension of their company's focus on safety and allows drivers to provide an additional service to the communities in which they live and work. “People love the idea of somebody else watching the neighborhood,” Hayward says. “This is not just somebody else who's driving through. This is somebody who has a vested interest in what's happening on their street.”
Rubio agrees. “I'm out there all the time and I just felt that that's something I need to do.”
“[It's] a huge advantage when some bad guy's trying to do something he shouldn't because they probably figure we're not watching,” Hayward says. “[But], guess what? We are.”