Shooting Focuses Attention on a Program That Seeks to Avoid Guns
March 22, 2012
In Sanford, she (Ms. Dorival, the police department’s volunteer coordinator) said, watch groups are not even supposed to make the rounds. That is the job of another kind of volunteer organization, Citizens on Patrol, whose members are selected and trained by the police and who drive the streets in a specially marked vehicle. Members of that group, Ms. Dorival said, “are armed only with a radio.”
A wide range of neighborhood watch organizations exist across the country. Some have patrols, while others like Sanford’s do not. But the National Sheriffs’ Association, which sponsors the program nationwide, is absolutely clear on one point: guns have no place in a watch group. A manual distributed by the association repeatedly underscores the point: “Patrol members do not carry weapons.”
The manual warns that watch members should “not attempt to apprehend a person committing a crime or to investigate a suspicious activity.” It should be emphasized to members of patrols, the materials state, that “they do not possess police power and they shall not carry weapons.” The consequences of not following the guidelines are severe, the manual states: “Each member is liable as an individual for civil and criminal charges should he exceed his authority.”
The neighborhood watch movement came together some 40 years ago through the efforts of the National Sheriffs’ Association. Chris Tutko, the national director for the program at the association, said there were 25,000 registered neighborhood watch groups in the United States today, and far more unregistered groups like the one in Sanford.
“This is a common-sense organization,” Mr. Tutko said. “If you carry a weapon, most likely you’re going to turn into a victim, or worse.” In his 40 years of work in law enforcement, he said, he has not seen another case like the one involving Mr. Zimmerman.