Sanford, Florida -- the city where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman -- has changed its Neighborhood Watch rules, and will now perform background checks and all volunteers will have to undergo a six-week training program. The police department will also recommend that volunteers not carry firearms. The city’s police chief, Cecil E. Smith, who took over after the previous chief resigned amid the handling of the Martin case, will announce the new rules at a community meeting on Tuesday. The new rules could open the city up to lawsuits, since the state’s gun laws allow licensed gun owners to carry conceal weapons. Zimmerman was acquitted earlier this year of second-degree murder charges.
"Francis Oliver, who has lived in Sanford for 65 years, said her trust in law enforcement and people in Sanford had diminished, and restoring it would be a slow process.
"Not trusting law enforcement in Sanford didn't just start with Trayvon Martin; it was there before Trayvon Martin. It's been there 100 years. You just don't undo that kind of mentality in six months," she said.
But Oliver, 70, said the background checks and other changes were a good start to regaining that trust on both fronts.
Chris Tutko, who retired in June as director of national neighborhood watch for the National Sheriffs' Assn., said a volunteer is merely supposed to be the eyes and the ears of the police department. The association recommends that neighborhood watches be unarmed.
"All you do is make the phone call, step back and let law enforcement do their job," he said."
Advocates of stricter gun laws welcome the move, although the program changes could conflict with a Florida state law that allows licensed gun owners to carry a concealed weapon.
But Smith counters that the department would not ban firearms, but would "strongly suggest" that neighborhood watch volunteers not carry them.
"We're not in the business of violating anyone's 2nd Amendment rights," he said.
David Ortman, 57, who lives in Sanford, is one of the resident's who welcome the change, and believes that all guns should be taken away from neighborhood watch volunteers.
"I am concerned all of the time for my stepson because he is an African American youth," Ortman said. "Quite frankly, the reality of our world is that he's targeted."