11/03/2013

Fla. police revamp neighborhood watch

The watch group will include restrictions to try to keep members from carrying guns and pursuing suspects.

Associated Press

SANFORD, Fla. — The police department in the Florida city where 17-year-old Travyon Martin was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman is reviving and revamping the watch program to include restrictions to try to keep members from carrying guns and pursuing suspects.

Zimmerman was acquitted of a second-degree murder charge in July. During his trial, evidence was presented that he followed Martin before the two fought and the teen was killed in February 2012 in Sanford.

Participation in the program dwindled after the shooting, police spokeswoman Shannon Cordingly said in an email on Thursday. The program "has gone dormant in the community," she added, and "will not become active again until we get our groups together and train them."

The revisions will be outlined during a Nov. 5 community meeting where police will explain the new program and determine which neighborhoods want to participate.

The previous neighborhood watch program was run and managed by the Neighborhood Watch Captains. When Police Chief Cecil Smith took the helm, he revamped the entire police department, including the watch program. The revamped program will be a partnership between the Neighborhood Watch groups and the police department, Cordingly explained.

The police department was heavily criticized for declining to charge Zimmerman at first, and he wasn't arrested until 44 days after the shooting in the Orlando suburb.

Under the previous watch program, there was nothing written about leaders or volunteers being able to carry firearms, Smith told The Associated Press.

"We are asking those who choose to be a part of the program not to be armed," he said.

Smith added that watch leaders and volunteers should be talking to each other and with neighbors on what's going on in the community "and we just don't see the need for anybody to be armed," he said.

"We are getting back to what neighborhood watch is supposed to be," Smith said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

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