Sunday, April 22, 2018
Public safety

Waste Management drivers to keep an eye out during the RNC and beyond

TAMPA — Anarchists, terrorists and plain old thieves and creeps, your new foe wears work boots and fluorescent vests.

Meet the garbage men.

Or maybe not. If Waste Management haulers do as they were trained Tuesday morning, they likely won't leave their trucks. But they will take notes.

"Don't get involved," said the narrator on a training video. "Your job is to observe and report."

The Houston-based company's "Waste Watch" community safety program made its local debut Tuesday before more than 120 employees at its 40th Street facility in Hillsborough County.

The program, which trains haulers to spot suspicious activity on their routes, started during the 2004 Republican National Convention at New York's Madison Square Garden.

Waste Management, which is one of the garbage haulers in Hillsborough, serves 73,000 residential and 5,000 commercial customers. It decided to team up with law enforcement to start the local version just in time for next month's Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Tampa police Capt. Bret Bartlett told the drivers the convention will attract more than just thousands of protesters. Other groups, such as anarchists, will travel to the area.

He told them to look for strangers who might be living in abandoned homes.

"Nobody knows your neighborhood like you do," Bartlett said. "You know what's supposed to be there and what's not supposed to be there."

Above all, he told drivers, trust your instincts.

"If it feels wrong, guys," Bartlett said, "it's probably wrong."

Drivers watched a 14-minute video and learned that as a major corporation, Waste Management itself could be a terrorist target. They saw re-enactments of odd activities — like a man taking photographs of a garbage truck — and were told to keep an eye on anyone "taking an undue interest in our bins."

The training video was culturally sensitive, showing an image of a young white woman who was a suicide bomber, a young Middle Eastern man who was a victim. "How can you recognize a terrorist when you see one?" the narrator asked. "You can't."

The basic upshot of the training was this: Don't get involved — "You're not police officers," the narrator said — but don't be afraid to call authorities, either.

"Let the police decide whether it's important or not," said Waste Management director of corporate security Joe Vidovich.

Vidovich said the video is the same one shown to thousands of workers around the country and that the local workers aren't receiving any special training because of the RNC. He said the garbage haulers who were put on alert at the 2004 convention did not report any suspicious activity.

In other Florida counties, the Waste Watch program has been cited for helping law enforcement and other emergency officials. In Miami-Dade, a driver spotted smoke coming out of a building where a man was sleeping inside. Another driver in Orange County caught two men stealing a gaming system from a sorority house and called police.

Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick, who attended an event announcing the program, said he initially had been concerned that garbage haulers would be putting themselves in harm's way. But he said he felt better after seeing the video.

"I feel more comfortable now," he said. "They stress that they're not law enforcement officers."

After the video, drivers were given a multiple-choice test. If they pass, they are officially Waste Watch certified drivers. They get a certificate and a baseball cap.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Laura Morel can be reached at (727) 893-8713 or [email protected]

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