Neighborhood Watches: Good or Bad for Police Departments?
There has been a lot of attention recently about neighborhood watches after the “captain” of a neighborhood watch in Sanford, Fla. shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin. Media outlets are asking if the shooter, George Zimmerman, was just looking out for his neighborhood where there had been multiple break-ins recently, or if he was a wannabe cop who tried to take justice into his own hands?
Neighborhood watch groups were designed to be the eyes and ears of police—passively observing what they see and reporting back to law enforcement—not to enforce the law themselves, according to this article. Zimmerman had reportedly called police nearly 50 times since 2004 (which doesn’t sound like an excessive amount to me, considering the eight-year time span).
And, according to media reports, many of his neighbors approved of his vigilance. He was making sure their homes and property were okay, something that police certainly don’t have the manpower to do. When people left for a few days, they often told Zimmerman so he could keep an eye on things. To me, that sounds like a great neighbor. But, of course, things went awry when he saw Martin walking down the road at night.
One of the questions being asked is whether or not Zimmerman should have been carrying a gun? Well, he had a legal right to carry a weapon, question answered.
The other interesting component of this case is Florida’s Stand Your Ground law that gives people wide latitude to use deadly force in self-defense.
How do police officers feel about neighborhood watches and the Stand Your Ground law? Do these two elements help police do their jobs to protect the public? Do they enable citizens to protect themselves and their neighborhoods when police can’t be there? Or do they give citizens too much police-like power to take the law into their own hands?