The police chief of the town where teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed has ordered neighborhood watch volunteers to report to duty in their neighborhoods unarmed or not to report at all. According to News Channel 13, Sanford, Florida’s new police chief Cecil Smith is making major changes to the city’s neighborhood watch program.
In addition to the no weapons rule, Smith said, volunteers will be asked not to pursue individuals they believe may have committed a crime. Martin’s death at the hands of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February of 2012 was the result of a dysfunctional system, said the new chief.
“In this program,” Smith explained, “it is clearly stated that you will not pursue an individual. In this new program, it clearly indicates that you will not carry a firearm when performing your duties as a neighborhood watch captain or participant.”
Smith told reporters that when he took over as sheriff earlier this year, the neighborhood watch program was being run exactly as it had been more than a year ago when the unarmed 17-year-old was gunned down. He immediately suspended the program rather than risk another incident under his leadership.
“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,” Smith said.
“There was really no accountability,” he continued. “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 doing now is really, truly revamping the entire program, starting from scratch.”
Under Smith’s new guidelines, all volunteers will be subject to background checks and the chain of command has been restructured to include a police officer who specializes in acting as a liaison between the public and the police force.
The police department will hold an open forum on Nov. 5 to discuss the changes with the public.
[image of Police Chief Cecil Smith via sanfordfl.gov]