The city of Sanford, Florida, where George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in February of 2012, will announce new rules for neighborhood watch groups on November 5. The new rules will state explicitly that no member of a neighborhood watch organization may carry a gun, nor are they allowed to pursue a person who they think is acting suspiciously.
These rules are actually in line with the original intent of such groups as outlined in the manual issued by the National Sheriffs’ Association which first created them in 1972. That manual says that they are to be the eyes and ears of law enforcement only and should never carry a weapon, nor should they pursue or confront a suspicious person.
The idea behind neighborhood watch came from the 1964 murder of Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese who was attacked and killed outside of her apartment building in Queens as dozens of neighbors ignored her pleas for help. One neighbor told police that she “didn’t want to get involved.”
When Zimmerman attempted to organize a group in 2011, the Sanford Police offered a handbook and orientation by an officer to explain the role of a neighborhood watch. Under the new rules the Police Department will have a more active role in the creation of these groups.
The new rules will be detailed in a more thorough handbook and those joining the group will undergo training with the police department and be required to register and regularly update their status with the department.
Any member who is found to be carrying a weapon while on patrol will be removed from the program but will not be charged with a crime.
Police Chief Cecil Smith, who had only been on the job for a short time when Zimmerman went on trial, said that the neighborhood watch program which was in place when he took over and was not working.
Chief Smith says, “In this program it is clear, clearly stated that you will not pursue an individual. And our new program it clearly indicates that you will not carry a firearm while you are in the performance of your duties.”