The police chief in Sanford, Fla. -- where neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin – on Tuesday clarified revisions to the city’s neighborhood watch program and whether participants could carry guns.
Police Chief Cecil Smith said neighborhood watch volunteers won’t be banned from carrying firearms, even though the department recommends they don’t.
"We're not asking anyone to take their second amendment, or their concealed weapons rights away from them," Smith told NBC station WESH TV in Orlando.
Last week, Sanford’s police department spokeswoman confirmed to NBC that neighborhood watch volunteers would not be allowed to carry firearms.
WESH reported Tuesday that news of such restrictions brought complaints from gun rights groups.
But Smith blamed confusion about the restrictions on his own faulty language. He told the Orlando Sentinel newspaper that volunteers in another police-run program, Citizens on Patrol, would be banned from carrying handguns.
In a news conference Tuesday, Smith introduced a revamped neighborhood watch program that includes more detailed guidance, training and responsibilities of neighborhood watch volunteers.
In addition, volunteers will be required to undergo background checks and sign a waiver absolving the city of any responsibility for their actions.
A new handbook includes a number of fresh guidelines for volunteers, primarily about how to detech suspicious behavior and report on crimes.
Included is a bolded and repeated statement: “Citizens participating in the Neighborhood Watch program are not law enforcement officers and should never attempt to apprehend a suspect. That is a law enforcement officer’s job.”
A community meeting introducing residents to the programs is scheduled for Tuesday night.
Zimmerman fought with Martin and fatally shot him on Feb. 26, 2012. In July he was acquitted of second degree murder in a captivating trial that drew attention all the way to the White House.
Editor's note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.
First published November 5 2013, 4:38 PM