Our local garbage truck drivers are picking up waste and lending a watchful eye into your neighborhoods, areas where local law enforcement officers aren’t always able to be. The program, initially rolled out by Waste Management as a way to identify suspicious terrorist activity, is being implemented in communities like ours across the nation. The Key West Weekly didn’t have to do any dumpster diving to find out what a positive, profound effect Waste Watch will have on the island.
Mike Socha has been a driver for WM for over two decades. He lives in Cudjoe and climbs into his truck at 7 am sharp to begin collecting. He works until the job is done.
“I do large piles of waste strictly in Key West. Appliances, furniture, things to that nature,” Socha sets the scene.
He tells the Key West Weekly he has witnessed drug deals go down in certain sections of the island, and in the past; he’s simply kept his eyes peeled to the curb, but that isn’t the mindset he’ll be taking to work from here on out.
Socha and over fifty of his colleagues are now trained in Waste Watch, a community safety program implemented by corporate. These men will act as protectors of paradise by reporting any activity they find shady.
“It’s a small town, and I’m sure they want to get onboard and help,” solidifies Greg Sullivan WM’s district manger.
Joe Vidovich, head of corporate security flew in from Atlanta for the training. He says the inception came after 9/11. The company realized they are on the streets almost, if not more, than local law enforcement personnel.
“Nearly all of our personnel are enthusiastic about this program and excited to watch the backs of other members of the community,” says Vidovich.
Here is how Waste Watch works.
The drivers are trained to be extra vigilant about suspicious activity such as:
• Peaking in Windows
• Stealing Bicycles or Boat Motors
• Home and Business Break-ins
• Drug Deals
Becky Herrin, Public Information Officer for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department brings to light during this time of strict budget cuts, having the garbage truck driver’s trained is a powerful policing tool for everyone living, working, and vacationing here.
“Especially,” Herring offers, “since they’re out early in the morning when not many people are awake. This is when many crimes occur.”
The WM drivers are advised through the certification process: they are not to become directly involved and need to remember they are not trained officers, and at no time are they permitted to carry a weapon. They are only to “play watch,” observe and report confidential information to the Sheriff’s office or KWPD.
“I want to stress,” says Lieutenant J.R. Torres, “There isn’t any criticism for looking into a concern that turns out to be nothing. I’d rather go check it out to be on the safe side.”
A new role with WM Mike Socha is set on.
“If there’s a drug deal going on, they’re not going to suspect a regular trash collector to call them in. We’re going to be right there to report an accident or anything suspicious going on.”
Waste Management has 56 employees in Monroe County and 25 trucks servicing Key West and the Lower Keys six days per week. In one recent Waste Watch case in Cape Coral, a driver alerted police to a commercial burglary. The suspect was apprehended.
Socha shows us his cell, “You can see I’ve got on speed dial, Key Wes Police, Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, and the Florida Marine Patrol,” and reiterates he isn’t intimidated to call in suspicious activity.
Public Information Officer for the sheriff’s office, Becky Herrin says the drivers, “can be the eyes and ears for the community when we can’t be there.”
KWPD Lieutenant J.R. Torres asked WM to emphasize the men won’t be criticized for reports which turn out to be nothing. “We’d rather investigate, and the call result in no illegal activity, then for nothing to be reported and something come of it.”
Mike Sosha starts picking up waste at 7 am, a time when most people are still at home getting ready for work.
Sosha’s Waste Watch training will allow him to tune in to more than trash. His eyes will be peeled for suspicious and illegal activity.