Tragedy in Florida shines a spotlight on neighborhood watch groups

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Tragedy in Florida shines a spotlight on neighborhood watch groups

CREATED Mar 22, 2012

Reporter: Marcelino Benito

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Budget cuts have limited how police respond to crime and neighborhood watch teams are becoming more important in protecting where Tucsonan's live. 9OYS took a look at how local neighborhood watch groups operate.

After news neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman allegedly shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, an uproar is brewing across the country. It's sparking the question: why did an armed neighborhood watch captain take matters into his own hands?

The Pima County Sheriff's Department says they expect folks that take part in Neighborhood Watch to simply be good observers and report anything unusual they see. The Sheriff's department runs about 240 neighborhood watch groups in the county. 9OYS took a look at the sheriff's neighborhood watch start guide. On page four, the message is clear: Watch groups are not vigilantes. But what about carrying weapons? 9OYS took those questions to a northwest side neighborhood to find out what they do.

"Just patrolling neighborhood in a vehicle armed with pen, paper and a cell phone," Jay DeAngeli said. "We don't approach. We don't follow."

They also don't carry weapons. 9OYS reporter Marcelino Benito asked why.

"We don't want to confront anyone, that's not really our job," Carole DeAngeli said. "Our job is to get sheriff involved."

The National Sheriff's Association says it's highly unusual for neighborhood watches to be armed. Most discourage it, but there's no explicit rule in the county guidebook outlawing it. The Sheriff's Department tells 9OYS members of neighborhood watch groups have the same rights as anyone else in the state, including carrying a weapon. Law enforcement agencies do explicitly warn neighbors not to enforce the law themselves.

"None of us carry weapons of any kind, and I think most of us have weapons," DeAngeli said. "I'm saddened by the incident in Florida, but sometimes they do happen."

The Pima County Sheriff's Department conducts background checks for individuals who choose to serve as area leaders and block leaders of their local neighborhood watch program.