Civilian neighborhood patrols won't be able to carry firearms or pursue suspicious people under new rules in Sandford, Florida — the city where unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was shot dead by neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
The rules are being changed in order to prevent another tragic incident and revive the program’s reputation, said Shannon Cordingly, a Sanford Police Department spokeswoman.
“We will not allow a person to carry a firearm while operating as a member of our neighborhood watch program,” Cordingly told NBC News in an email on Wednesday.
She deferred other questions about the details of the program to Police Chief Cecil Smith, who she said would be available on Thursday.
The new neighborhood watch rules — part of a major revamp of the entire department steered by Smith, who took over after the previous chief who oversaw the Zimmerman investigation was fired — will be officially announced at a community meeting on Nov. 5 in Sanford, Cordingly said.
After a trial that transfixed the nation, in July a jury found Zimmerman not guilty in the February 2012 shooting of Martin. The defense successfully argued that the 29-year-old shot Martin in self-defense while being physically attacked.
Prosecutors accused Zimmerman of racially profiling the high school student and pursuing him before shooting him to death.
The verdict sparked protests and a debate on race and guns that stretched all the way to the White House.
"People in the community are nervous to join a group (neighborhood watch) that was tarnished in the media and got a bad image with everything that happened. We really want to put those fears to rest and get the community going on the program," Cordingly told Reuters.
According to the news service, Sanford's new rules are laid out with in a detailed handbook and will require neighborhood watch groups to be trained and registered with the department.
A new community relations unit also will be set up to oversee the program, which for the first time will include more precise tracking of watch groups.
When Zimmerman formed a watch group in his gated community in 2011, the requirements were less rigorous, according to Reuters, including a handbook and a presentation by a police volunteer that explained the role of the group was to deter crime.
Martin's family settled a wrongful death claim for Trayvon's death against the homeowner's association at The Retreat at Twin Lakes subdivision. The family has also fought to repeal Florida’s stand-your-ground laws.
Lake Mary, Fla., police were called to a dispute between George Zimmerman and his wife Shellie in September amid divorce proceedings but police confirmed on last week there would be no charges filed in that incident.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Editor's note: George Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal for defamation. The company strongly denies the allegation.
First published October 30 2013, 4:43 PM