Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman case causes PBC police agencies to warn neighborhood watch groups

"He's running," George Zimmerman told 911.

"Are you following him?" the dispatcher asked.

He was.

"We don't need you to do that," the dispatcher said, echoing the advice Palm Beach County police agencies said they would have given him.

But he did.

Zimmerman confronted Trayvon Martin in his gated community in Sanford, north of Orlando, and fatally shot the Miami Gardens 17-year-old.

He calls it self-defense. Martin's family calls it murder and wants the neighborhood watch volunteer criminally charged.

Mostly not in dispute: If Zimmerman doesn't leave his car, Martin isn't dead.

Law-enforcement authorities instruct neighborhood watches, and even sanctioned volunteer programs such as Citizens on Patrol (COP), to never approach or pursue someone, but rather to call 911 - and to never use a weapon.

The sheriff's office has more than 3,000 COP volunteers. Many wear uniforms and drive marked sheriff's cruisers. But they do not carry weapons and are instructed not to confront people but to be their "eyes and ears," spokeswoman Teri Barbera said.

Said Officer Ellen Lovejoy, spokeswoman for Palm Beach Gardens police: "We always tell people not to confront. Not just neighborhood watch groups. Everyone. To call the police department."

"There should have been no confrontation whatsoever. Make your phone call. Stand aside," Chris Tutko, director of Neighborhood Watch for the National Sheriff's Association, said from Alexandria, Va.

When the Retreat at Twin Lakes community told Sanford police it wanted to start a neighborhood watch, city volunteer program coordinator Wendy Dorival spoke to them in September 2011.

Her PowerPoint presentation, and a neighborhood watch manual the city makes available, both make clear: Don't confront.

"The philosophy is, 'No weapons. Don't confront. Call the police,' " Dorival said Wednesday.

She said that was her last dealings with the neighborhood, which chose its own leaders and had no sanctioning or accrediting relationship with law enforcement.

The National Sheriff's Association said Wednesday it has "no information indicating the community where the incident occurred has ever even registered with the NSA Neighborhood Watch program."



Excerpts from Neighborhood Watch manuals:

"What you will not do is get physically involved with any activity you report or apprehension of any suspicious persons. This is the job of the law enforcement agency." -- City of Sanford (where Trayvon Martin slaying occurred)

"Neighborhood Watch is an observe and report type of program. Neighborhood Watch members are encouraged not to stop and question people, but to observe and report their observations to the Sheriff's Office and a trained officer will respond and investigate the incident." -- Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office

"It should be emphasized to members that they do not possess police powers and they shall not carry weapons or pursue vehicles. They should also be cautioned to alert police or deputies when encountering strange activity. Members should never confront suspicious persons who could be armed and dangerous." -- National Sheriff's Association

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