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Courts / Law

Garbage Men on Waste Watch for RNC

With the Republican National Convention coming to Tampa, local law enforcement is calling for all hands on deck to help with security. They’ve even enlisted the help… of the city’s garbage men.

Waste Management's green garbage trucks are now part of a program called  “Waste Watch.”

The concept is simple: drivers trained by local police and a former FBI official look out for security threats during the convention.

"As a waste management driver, you have a far greater chance of encountering emergency situations or unusual activities than most people," says the company's training video.

"You cover more ground at a slower pace with more time to notice things that may lead to dangerous situation."

The program was originally designed to look for terror threats during the 2004 Republican Convention in New York City. Since then, it has spread to more than 300 communities across the country and was brought to Tampa for this year's convention.

To get a sense of what the drivers will be looking out for, I caught a ride with driver Arthur Hickman… at 3:30 in the morning.

The route takes us through downtown, just a couple of blocks from the Tampa Bay Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center.

"You know, after coming day after day, you’d be surprised at the things you pay attention to and know it's out of place," says Hickman. He points to a man sleeping on the balcony of an abandoned apartment building.

"He don’t live there, he just sleeps there every night and that’s one of the things you notice - that he’s always there.

Now if he wasn’t there or it was 10 people up there, that would seem abnormal to me and that would be something I would probably call in."

Abandoned buildings are good place for out-of-towners without a hotel room to crash. Arthur stops in front of a concrete enclosure meant to hide a dumpster from prying eyes.

"Say for instance this enclosure here," says Hickman. "I pick this up three times a week… If I find a guy sleeping inside this enclosure that’s not normally there, that’s one of the things that I would report."

Then we open the enclosure there's an old mattress and a chair beside the dumpster.

"Somebody was probably sleeping there at some time or another," says Hickman.

The drivers were told to look out for unusual items in the trash; Things like pipes with caps on both ends - the basic materials for a pipe bomb.

Hickman grew up just a few miles from the route he now patrols. And he says what he does now is a lot like the neighborhood watch.

There are those who are watching, and those who sleep comfortably, most of whom will never realize who is keeping them safe.