Months after the country’s most famous neighborhood watchman was acquitted in the 2012 death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, the Florida city of Sanford is changing the rules on how civilian patrols operate.
The new rules are explicit and simple: neighborhood watch volunteers may not carry a firearm or pursue someone they think are suspicious.
The new rules, which will be detailed in a handbook and presented at a Nov. 5 community meeting in Sanford, are Chief Cecil Smith and the police department’s attempt to smooth over people’s concerns about the neighborhood watch program.
“There was really no accountability,” Smith said. “There was no true recognition. There were concerns with regards to training. 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 going now is really truly revamping the entire program, starting from scratch.”
The new guidelines will require neighborhood watch groups to undergo training, background checks, register members with the police department and regularly update their status with the department, according to Shannon Cordingly, spokeswoman for the Sanford Police Department.
“Neighborhood watch was always intended to be a program where you observe what is going on and report it to police,” Cordingly told Reuters. “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.”
Volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman was acquitted in July of manslaughter in the death of 17-year-old Martin, a high school visiting from Miami. He was accused of racially profiling Martin and then pursuing, confronting and shooting him.
Martin’s family settled their wrongful death claim for what was reportedly at least $1 million in April.
“People in the community are nervous to join a group that was tarnished in the media and got a bad image with everything that happened. We really want to put those fears to rest and get the community going on the program,” Cordingly said.
The program will be overseen by the department’s new full-time three-officer community relations unit.
Cordingly added that any neighborhood watch member who violates the rules will be removed from the program but will not be charged with a crime.
Sources: Reuters, TheGrio.com