Neighborhood watch volunteers will no longer be allowed to carry guns or pursue suspects in Sanford, Fla.–the town where volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed teenager Trayvon Martin in February 2012.
The city’s new police chief, Cecil Smith, will announce the new rules at a community meeting on November 5. The rule explicitly states that “volunteers are not to carry guns and not to follow suspects.”
Zimmerman was armed and followed the unarmed Martin as the teen walked through the neighborhood to his father’s home.
“Neighborhood watch was always intended to be a program where you observe what is going on and report it to police. In light of everything that has gone on, that’s what we’re really going to go back and push. That’s what this program is and that’s all it is,” said Shannon Cordingly, a Sanford Police Department spokeswoman.
After assuming her role as police chief in April, Smith called for a review of the “dysfunctional” watch program. Smith told Orlando’s News 13, “There really was no accountability.”
“There were concerns with regards to training,” Smith said. “There were concerns with how the program was being run. We put a cease to the neighborhood watch program, essentially, in the manner it was in before, and what we’re doing now is really, truly revamping the entire program, starting from scratch.”
Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter in July. Zimmerman formed the watch group for his gated community in 2011, and was offered a handbook and a presentation by a volunteer, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Cordingly said the police department will keep track of neighborhood watch groups for the first time. She said that any neighborhood watch volunteer who violates the rules by carrying a weapon or pursuing suspects will be removed from the program but will not be charged with a crime.
“We’ve seen this happen already, where an individual was declaring that under the auspice of neighborhood watch, he was performing a duty that he wasn’t,” said Smith.
The revised Sanford neighborhood watch program will include mandatory background checks and training, and assigned block captains who will communicate direclty with a new division of police officers who will work with watch members. The old program had watch members work with civilian liaisons, instead of police officers.
“Neighborhood watch is a very simple organization. It’s about neighbors helping neighbors, talking to neighbors about ways to make their neighborhood safe. That’s it,” Smith said.