Sanford, FL Police Chief Back Peddles On Neighborhood Watch Carrying Guns
About 6 days ago, it was reported that Chief of Police Cecil Smith of Sanford, Florida, revamped the rules for neighborhood watch volunteers that include they cannot carry firearms while conducting neighborhood watch.
Now, he has changed his mind. The Orlando Sentinel and other sources report since the original announcement, that Chief Smith held a community meeting where he clarified the new rules for Neighborhood Watch. About 100 people attended.
Chief Smith stated:
“We’re recommending that no one is armed” and, “It’s about communications. It’s not about firearms.”
While the police strongly discourage the carrying of a firearm by neighborhood watch volunteers, they are not going to stop them from carrying.
The Daily Beast reports Chief Smith saying;
“It doesn’t say you can carry a firearm and it doesn’t say you can’t. We’re not banning firearms. We’re telling people that you should not—not ‘shall not’—be armed when you’re performing as a Neighborhood Watch block captain,” he explains. “Neighborhood Watch is built on the principal of ‘Observe, identify, and notify the police if you see something suspicious.’ You don’t chase someone down, you don’t confront. You call us and we’ll do that.”
Smith blamed the confusion on his use of faulty language, saying that “Citizens on Patrol” will be banned from carrying handguns. That is not faulty language. In July 2013, Blackbutterfly7 reported on Citizens on Patrol. Citizens on Patrol has always banned the use of carrying firearms by its volunteers.
“Neighborhood Watch was never meant for people to carry guns,” Smith said during the news conference. “It does not have a patrol function in the city of Sanford.” Chief Smith stated that people never confront a possible criminal but call the police instead.
That is a mixed message. On one hand, Chief Smith says that neighborhood watch is not to patrol, pursue nor confront, but observe and report to the police. On the other hand, he infers an encouragement to patrol and confront by allowing neighborhood watch to conceal carry. If a person sees something suspicious when out of their house, and they are not to confront, Chief Smith’s rule opens opportunity for more Zimmermans; i.e., just allege they were going to the store, but they saw someone suspicious based on their experience as a neighborhood watch volunteer.
When Smith became chief seven months ago, he said he found neighborhood watch in disarray, with various groups operating with their own set of rules and no accountability. What Chief Smith has done in the new policies, is require concealed-weapons license holders who volunteer for neighborhood watch, to sign waivers that absolves the police of any liability should they use a firearm while on patrol.
While urging residents never to confront a possible criminal but call the police, Chief Smith gives every resident opportunity to be the next George Zimmerman. They can call the police, and confront. In that case, while Zimmerman was on the phone with dispatch following Trayvon in his vehicle, Trayvon Martin ran. Zimmerman immediately exited his vehicle. Zimmerman, who answered in the affirmative when asked by dispatch if he was following Trayvon, later alleged that he got out of his car to get an address to give to dispatch. Zimmerman did not give the address to dispatch. Inconsistent with that, Zimmerman also alleged that he got out of his vehicle to follow Trayvon because dispatch asked him to report where Trayvon went. As evidenced by his call, Zimmerman reported to dispatch that Trayvon was running in the direction of the back gate as he was exiting his vehicle and before being asked if he was following.
With Zimmerman’s inconsistent statements, and being found not guilty, what’s to stop the next armed person from alleging a person is suspicious, following, confronting and killing that person, then claim inconsistent reasons for following? What’s to stop the next judge from ruling that the initial aggressor section of the law should not be provided in jury instructions?
Chief Smith still requires Neighborhood Watch volunteers to undergo criminal background checks and formal training.