Some stories have reported with a suggestion of illegitimacy that the Twin Lakes neighborhood watch group was not of the 25,000 registered with the National Sheriff’s Association. But while that is true, it is very clear the chapter had support and basic instruction provided by the Sanford Police Department.

Dorival has described to a number of outlets how she briefed neighborhood watch members at Retreat at Twin Lakes that evening. Per The New York Times:

She then gave a PowerPoint presentation and distributed a handbook. As she always does, she emphasized what a neighborhood watch is — and what it is not.

In every presentation, “I go through what the rules and responsibilities are,” she said Thursday. The volunteers’ role, she said, is “being the eyes and ears” for the police, “not the vigilante.” Members of a neighborhood watch “are not supposed to confront anyone,” she said. “We get paid to get into harm’s way. You don’t do that. You just call them from the safety of your home or your vehicle.”


Using a gun in the neighborhood watch role would be out of the question, she said in an interview.

Slate has a good explainer on Neighborhood Watch and their effectiveness here, and the Orlando Sentinel has a useful story on the relationship between the police and neighborhood watch groups.

Some outlets have described Zimmerman as a “self-appointed” neighborhood watch captain, but other accounts indicate that Zimmerman volunteered for the job, and that neighbors approved of him in the position. Accounts also indicate that while Zimmerman was violating neighborhood watch guidance, until the shooting of Trayvon Martin, some residents thought Zimmerman was doing a good job. Crime continued in the subdivision, and Zimmerman was credited with apprehending one suspect and thwarting crimes. “Interviews with neighbors reveal a pleasant young man passionate about neighborhood security who took it upon himself to do nightly patrols while he walked his dog,” writes Robles.

The story goes on to offer testimonies from several neighbors who credited Zimmerman for improved security at Twin Lakes, but also quotes a resident who, fitting the description of the ‘suspicious’ characters Zimmerman targeted, was clearly made nervous and changed his behaviors to avoid the zealous watch captain. She interviews 25-year old Ibrahim Rashada:

“I fit the stereotype he emailed around,” he said. “Listen, you even hear me say it: ‘A black guy did this. A black guy did that.’ So I thought, ‘Let me sit in the house. I don’t want anyone chasing me.’ ”

For walks, he goes downtown.

That residents didn’t feel safe to move freely within their own gated community because of an overzealous neighborhood watch captain is a tragic irony, and in a smart blog post at BetterCities.com, Robert Steuteville argues that while gates are designed to provide a measure of security, they in fact worked in reverse for Trayvon Martin.

CJR Staff is a contributor to CJR.