The death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student in Sanford, Fla., is a vivid reminder that neighborhood watch programs, even with the best intentions, can trigger tragic results for families, residents and entire communities.
"We know neighborhood watch programs can reduce crime and ease the fears of residents, but they also pose major risks when appropriate procedures aren’t followed," says Thomas M. Skiba, CAE, chief executive officer of Community Associations Institute (CAI). "It’s essential that those who organize and lead watch programs work with local law enforcement authorities to ensure that all volunteers understand and accept the extent and limitations of their responsibilities."
Skiba said it’s not CAI’s place to pass judgment on the criminality of the events in Florida or the state’s stand-your-ground law. "But the horrible fact remains that family and friends now grieve for a young man," he says. "As the father of a 17-year-old son, I can’t begin to imagine the horror facing Trayvon’s family. If nothing else, the regrettable confrontation that night reminds us that such programs must be carefully implemented and rigorously monitored."
Skiba urges all community associations—even when a watch program isn’t managed by the association—to review procedures and to do everything possible to prevent confrontations that should be handled by police.
For communities considering neighborhood watch programs, Skiba offers the following advice:
"Community associations should proceed very carefully before they decide to create or manage a neighborhood watch program or before they even formally endorse a watch program organized by residents," Skiba says.
He says association boards considering this issue need to ask three fundamental questions:
"These questions should be answered—definitively—before board members take formal action to establish a watch program or even lend support to such an initiative," Skiba concludes. "Communities that can’t or won’t answer these questions should drop the idea altogether."
Visit www.caionline.org/neighborhoodwatch for a detailed article on this topic.
With more than 31,000 members dedicated to building better communities, CAI works in partnership with 60 chapters—including eight in Florida—and housing leaders in a number of other countries. CAI provides information, education and resources to homeowners, community association boards and the professionals who support them. Visit www.caionline.org or call (888) 224-4321.
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