When new Police Chief Cecil Smith arrived in Sanford, Fla., in April, he suspended the city's neighborhood watch program — the one under whose auspices
Smith has chosen to ask the volunteers rather than order them, perhaps because Florida law allows citizens to carry concealed weapons if they're properly permitted, as Zimmerman was. We wish he had gone further and told the volunteers that no one participating in the neighborhood watch program would be allowed to carry a gun — and that if they did they would be removed from the program.
No doubt Zimmerman was an aberration in the world of neighborhood watch volunteers: a pistol-packing cowboy who ignored advice from a 911 operator not to pursue Martin. But even if most volunteers are more responsible than Zimmerman, why do they need guns?
Some of Smith's critics argue that a neighborhood watch volunteer has as much right to walk down the street carrying a concealed weapon as anyone else. Indeed, the volunteer has more reason, they say, because he or she is more likely to end up in a dangerous situation.
But that's exactly why it's a bad idea. Law enforcement officials uniformly stress that the job of neighborhood watch volunteers is to observe and report what they see, not to confront or to police. What volunteers need are cellphones (to call the police) and flashlights.
In Los Angeles, neighborhood watches are coordinated and overseen by local police officers. It's extraordinarily rare for civilians to get concealed weapons permits in Los Angeles, so volunteers almost never carry guns. That's how it should be.