Public works employees in Gilbert have always, as Louis Anderson puts it, been on the lookout for chances to do something heroic.
Anderson, manager of Gilbert’s solid waste division, has stories of a garbage truck driver stopping to administer CPR to a fallen jogger and a meter reader pulling a woman from a burning car.
“We’ve had heroes in the Public Works Department for a long time,” Anderson said. “We just wanted to do something to make it a little more formal and get training from the police experts.”
As a result, Anderson has helped found the town’s “Cooperating With Cops” program, in which employees aid police by being on the lookout for potentially criminal activity during their daily routines.
The town’s 240 public works employees underwent training, in the form of a 45-minute seminar. Anderson said the inspiration for the Gilbert program came from Waste Management, whose Waste Watch program began in 1995 and is used in 100 cities.
“I stole it and presented it to my superiors, and they liked the idea,” Anderson said. “We have so many employees out and about on routes, and (suspicious activity is) always something we are on the lookout for anyway. By partnering with the police, we can have a better knowledge on things we could be looking for.”
With more municipalities facing police staff and budget cuts, the volunteer sets of eyes and ears have become increasingly valuable. Waste Management employees have alerted police on crimes from drunken driving to burglary to vehicle theft.
“We’ve always seen ourself as a community partner,” Waste management spokeswoman Lynn Brown said. “The cities we do business in are the cities our employees live and work in. So, we try to think of ways to serve the community, and that’s how the program got started.”
According to Gilbert police statistics, almost all violent and property crime is down in the town compared to this point last year. The exception is sexual assaults, which are up 64 percent (23 reported incidents through August, up from 14 in the first eight months of 2009).
Anderson stressed that the public works employees are only to watch and report. They are not to be police.
“They don’t put themselves in harm’s way,” Anderson said. “That’s something we reiterate with them.”