The Trayvon Martin case has put neighborhood watch groups squarely in the public eye.
George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, shot and killed Martin following a confrontation in a Sanford, Florida neighborhood.
Zimmerman claimed he killed Martin in self defense and, as of right now, has not been charged.
However, many believe the tragedy could have been avoided had Zimmerman not gone beyond what is expected of neighborhood watch volunteers.
Lt. Regis Thimons is the neighborhood watch coordinator for the St. Joseph County Police Department.
Thimons says neighborhood watch groups are essential to preventing neighborhood crime.
He says, “The whole idea of the neighborhood watch for people in the community is to be our eyes and ears of the police department while we're not there. So, in essence, we want people to observe, not to take action.”
George Zimmerman had observed Trayvon Martin in his neighborhood the night of the shooting and began following him because of some recent break-ins.
Zimmerman called police, who said they would send officers, and then told Zimmerman not to follow Martin. Zimmerman decided to follow Martin anyway.
Lt. Thimons says Zimmerman didn't just observe, he also took action.
“Someone lost their life as a result of his decision to go against what the dispatchers told him to do, and they told him not to make confrontation with that young gentleman.”
That is why Lt. Thimons always emphasizes the importance of simply being the eyes and ears of police every time he meets with neighborhood watch volunteers and those interested in joining their ranks.
“It's come up in the past many, many times, and the answer is always the same. We want you to be involved, we don't want the confrontations. We're trying to resolve a crime, not have another crime on our hands, one way or the other. The best way is to stay at a distance, observe if you can, and do what the dispatchers tell you to do when they tell you to do it.”
Lt. Thimons says the only time you should confront a suspect is if he or she comes into your home and threatens to harm you or a family member.
Otherwise, keep a safe distance and call 911.