Neighborhood watch programs -- how safe are they keeping us and how safe are they?
After the shooting and killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, Pronews 7 looked into the watch programs that are in place in Amarillo and how they operate.
According to Corporal Jerry Neufeld with the Amarillo Police Department, a Neighborhood Block Watch Program can be started when at least 75 percent of a block agrees to participate. They can then contact APD and officers will come to the neighborhood and meet with the residents to discuss ways to better protect their homes, neighborhood and cars, what kind of suspicious behaviors they should be on the lookout for and how to handle them should a situation arise. Then, that group of residents has the option to collectively purchase "Neighborhood Watch" signs to post on their block.
"It's a matter of just being the eyes and ears for the police department when we're out doing other calls and we're not down your street," said Corporal Neufeld. "So, we just want them to be out there kind of looking around and if they see a light on at the neighbors house and they know they're gone, the best thing to do is pick up the phone and call us."
In the case of Trayvon Martin, debate has swept the nation about the watch volunteer carrying a firearm. Pronews 7 asked Corporal Neufeld, is it legal for watch volunteers to patrol their blocks or carry weapon?
"Everybody has that right, but we don't really recommend that they do patrol," he said. "That's just something that it just puts them in the potential for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Now when we talk about firearms and what we can do to protect ourselves, we have to be a little more careful. If you're going to carry a firearm you must have a concealed-to-carry permit. We would tell people if they're going to get up and walk up and down the streets, do not carry a firearm," he added.
If volunteers do suspect suspicious activity or even see some kind of criminal activity, police say, the best thing they can do is call law enforcement.
"We don't even want them confronting people. What's going to happen if that guy turns around and he's got something in his hands?" said the Corporal. "That's why we would just prefer that they get on the phone and call us the first minute that they see something that's suspicious. Carry a phone," he said. "That's the best thing. Carry that cell phone so you can call us."
Of course, the whole point of neighborhood watch programs is safety, for everyone. So keep your eyes peeled, get involved in your neighborhood and don't hesitate to call if you feel something isn't right.
"We want somebody who's paying attention to who's going to this house, who's going to that house, what time of the day and what is all this activity going on because if they are aware and paying attention, it really is probably going to make a difference in the amount of criminal activity that takes place in that block," said Corporal Neufeld.