AFRICANGLOBE – Less than four months after George Zimmerman’s acquittal in Trayvon Martin’s shooting death, Sanford intends to prohibit Neighborhood Watch members from carrying guns while on volunteer duty.
The no-gun policy was requested by police Chief Cecil Smith to better regulate the city’s network of residents looking out for one another to promote safer neighborhoods, Police Department spokeswoman Shannon Cordingly said.
“We never encouraged people to carry guns,” Cordingly said.
The new changes, to be announced at a community meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall, include formal training and registration of all volunteers.
Zimmerman, who coordinated the Neighborhood Watch at his townhome community in Sanford, shot and killed 16-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Miami Gardens high-school student, on Feb. 26, 2012 — sparking a collective rage that spread nationwide and beyond.
Chris Tutko, director of Neighborhood Watch for the National Sheriffs’ Association, previously told reporters that Zimmerman broke some cardinal rules.
First, he approached a stranger he suspected of wrongdoing.
“If you see something suspicious, you report it, you step aside and you let law enforcement do their job,” Tutko said. “This guy went way beyond the call of duty. At the least, he’s overzealous.”
Second, Zimmerman carried a handgun. Police departments and sheriff’s offices that train volunteers advise them never to carry weapons — though Zimmerman broke no laws by doing so because he has a concealed-weapons permit.
“The police can’t do it all,” said Tutko, who has spent four decades in law enforcement. “They need the people to be involved. As tragic as this situation is, I still think Neighborhood Watch is the best way for citizens to get involved in their communities.”
The killing raised widespread misunderstanding about the program’s purpose.
“I’m disappointed that people are trying to put blame onto the program when it’s not the program’s fault,” said Wendy Dorival, then the volunteer coordinator for the Sanford Police Department, a month after the shooting. “Neighborhood Watch is not what took his life away.”
The program was created in 1972 by the National Sheriffs’ Association to help prevent crime as people relocated more often and more women entered the work force, loosening community ties. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the initiative expanded to include emergency response, terrorism awareness and disaster preparedness.
The Neighborhood Watch at Retreat at Twin Lakes, where Zimmerman lived and was coordinator, was formed in September 2011. It was not registered with the national group, but there was no registration requirement.
Sanford and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office have additional volunteer programs that use trained residents to patrol communities to deter crime. In Sanford, the program is called Citizens on Patrol.
In Volusia, it’s called the Citizen Observer program. Volunteers ride two to a Sheriff’s Office-issued car and undergo background and driver checks, an hourlong interview and 60 hours of training.
They are unarmed and are warned of the dangers of trying to be cops or vigilantes.
“It’s something that we drill into them in training,” sheriff’s spokesman Brandon Haught said Wednesday. “You are a citizen. You’re not a law-enforcement officer.
By: Henry Pierson Curtis and Susan Jacobson