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Sanford Police Chief Walks Back “No Guns on Neighborhood Watch” Policy

Sanford Police Chief Walks Back “No Guns on Neighborhood Watch” Policy

Although it had been widely reported (including right here at Legal Insurrection) that the Sanford, FL police department had banned Neighborhood Watch volunteers from being lawfully armed, Police Chief Cecil Smith now says that this policy was miscommunicated to the public.

It remains true that volunteers in a more thoroughly organized form of neighborhood watch–called “Citizens on Patrol”–will be prohibited from being armed.  

Readers may recall  “Citizens on Patrol” from early in the Zimmerman trial.  One of the first of the Prosecution’s witnesses was Wendy Dorival, a civilian employee of the Sanford PD who acted as their liaison with local neighborhood watch programs.  She testified about her interactions with George Zimmerman in that context, describing him in glowing terms.  Indeed, so impressed was she with Zimmerman that she tried to recruit him for the more substantive “Citizens on Patrol” program.  In that program Zimmerman would have been provided with a patrol car, a uniform of sorts, and generally been as close to being a “real” policeman as he had ever hoped to become.

Zimmerman declined the opportunity — one might speculate because even then the position would have required that Zimmerman disarm himself.  

So, if it was always the policy that “Citizens on Patrol” were required to be unarmed, but that the “standard” Neighborhood Watch volunteers could lawfully arm themselves, why the past few days news about these issues?

I expect that the only real “miscommunication” from the Sanford Police Department has been in misunderstanding how severely negative the response would be to the notion that Neighborhood Watch volunteers would be required to leave themselves fatally vulnerable to criminal aggressors preying on their neighborhood.

For those who are interested, here is Wendy Dorival’s testimony from the trial:

–Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog, (paperback and Kindle), Barnes & Noble (paperback and Nook), and elsewhere.


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Readers may recall “Citizens on Patrol” from Police Academy 4.

The elite never did like the equality of the common man, including the right to keep and bear Arms. The American Constitution forced them to compromise their dignity with men and women of lower station. They have been seething and, apparently, plotting ever since that “fateful” change.

I suspect Andrew’s conclusion is correct.

I still don’t understand how it could be that if I want to join some local group like an NW, which is clearly a protected activity under the 1st and other amendments (freedom of speech, association, etc), and if I want to carry a legally owned gun with a legal CCW (also a protected activity, within the laws governing that), that some local yokel can say ‘If you want to do that first one, you have to give up your right to the 2nd one’. Or vice versa.

What if I wanted to join a local gun owner’s club ? The same logic must apply, right ? I have to give up my gun first ?

How about joining the PTA ?

If I choose to speak in public (1A), do I then give up my right to refuse to be searched unreasonably (4A) ? Or if I refuse to consent to a serach (4A), do I give up my right to speak about it (1A) ?

    Well, to provide some context: if I go to shoot any IDPA or USPSA match it’s invariably a cold-range–that is, it’s required that all firearms be kept unloaded unless on the firing line and under the supervision of a Safety/Range Officer.

    That’s not a violation of your Second Amendments rights–it’s a strictly voluntary activity, in which you have every right to participate or not participate, that imposes it’s own rules only if you choose to participate.

    The same principles apply (or, at least, could apply) to a neighborhood watch that’s been formally organized by some other entity. Their game, their rules. If you don’t like the rules, don’t play the game.

    In this case I’m presuming the PD backtracked because someone asked how they plan to respond the first time one of their Neighborhood Watch volunteers is brutally murdered without possibility of defending themselves because they were unarmed at the order of the police.

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

      Phillep Harding in reply to Andrew Branca. | November 6, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      The contrast between range safety and concealed carry practices… has always been, sort of interesting.

      Many of the people pushing the most extreme range safety have no problem at all with CCW holders carrying loaded and cocked firearms in shoulder holsters.

      Unless they are at a shooting range.


      I see you’re explanation – and I see it’s just that, an explanatin, not an endorsement.

      Sure, if some group has rules to go shooting, you agree to it. But, and I say this gently and not snarkily (? is that a word ?) – but it’s a bad comparison.

      A shooting competition is a leisure activity. A neighborhood watch is a surveilence and protective detail.

      Going to one unarmed is a safety consideration in a rather safe environment – the other is activity that, if you’re lucky you have a partner, but where you are actively out watching, reporting, and, as a last resort, confronting bad guys who are committing bad acts.

      I am HIGHLY suspicious of the police who want a group of civillians patrolling for crime whereby they want the citizens disarmed. I GET IT – they are afraid of civil liability, and are since they don’t really know these guys and cannot counsel / punish them departmentally – the citizen are “loose cannons”.

      But, from the citizen point of view, they are leaving my a$$ hanging out a long way flapping in the breeze so they are legally covered and to protect them from bad PR.

      So – in effect my life is worth less than their liability exposure (both in PR and $$$).

      I don’t accept that premise.

      It’s not unlike an idiotic idea of putting unworkable ROE’s on cops that make the city less likely to be sued, but put the cops’ lives in danger.

        Indeed, as you note, it’s an explanation, not an endorsement.

        I would personally NEVER agree to being unarmed as a condition of participating in a Neighborhood Watch program, and in my opinion anyone who would agree places very little value on their life.

        I live in a very safe neighborhood, and have a very low probability of ever needing to use my firearm to defend myself or my family. Even in that bubble of safety, every morning by PDW goes on my person, the same way as does my watch, my wallet, my car keys. Indeed, I only notice it when it’s NOT there (thanks, New York, New Jersey, etc.).

        Having said that, it’s in the nature of political bodies to pass nonsensical rules and requirements and conditions that serve their own interests at someone else’s expense. Why would we expect anything else? And, mostly, they can.

        I’m not saying it’s right (as in just or fair), I’m just noting how it IS.

        –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

An organized “Citizens on Patrol” under the control of the police department seems silly. What is the purpose of it. What would be the added benefit. Free unarmed and unpaid security guards for (and taking orders from) the police department? Police department wanting to grab more authority and control over the public? A strategy to get more new police cars after refurbishing old ones for the glorified Watchmen? More bureaucracy.

Another interesting part of the “clarification” by the Sanford PD that I failed to mention above is that Neighborhood Watch volunteers will be required to sign a document stating that the PD can’t be held liable for their actions.

The stupid is staggering.

If the volunteer’s actions give rise to a cause of action from a third party, that third part cannot be restricted in ANY WAY by an agreement to which they are not a signatory.

At most the PD agreement could require volunteers to indemnify the PD for any such suits resulting from the volunteer’s misconduct–but how the PD would expect, on a practical level, to recover what could well be millions in damages from a NW volunteer is beyond me. In my experience very few millionaires volunteer for NW.

It’s all political theater.

–Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

I’ve shot both. On ranges (property) owned by others, who set the rules on their own property. But it’s not the activity that makes the rules enforcible, it’s the ownership. If I had a hundred acres and decided to go hold my own competition, I could make whatever rules I wanted. The IPPP or USPSA might not sanction it, nor accept the results, nor let me use their names, fine. But I do not have ‘Rights’ that those things.

As to a NW setting its own rules for membership, fine. I have no ‘Right’ to be acknowledged by them as a member. However, I can still walk or drive around the neighborhood and watch it any time I choose. Legally armed if I have a CCW.

And if I set up my own NW with some neighbors, and don’t ask for any ‘endorsement’ by the local fuzz, then we can set what rules we want (within the law).

And screw signing anything for the PD, while we’re at it. In fact, WTF does the PD have to do with anything about a NW anyway ? They send the fattest ‘community relations officer’ they can find around a few times a year to talk about crap like telling you to put more lights outside, or how you should never get involved, ‘just call the PD’, etc.

Being in a ‘sanctioned’ NW gives you exactly ZERO additional ‘rights’ or legal status, right ? You are still just a private citizen, not a LEO in any way, no matter what your free ‘Junior Deputy’ badge says.

    pjm asks: “Being in a ‘sanctioned’ NW gives you exactly ZERO additional ‘rights’ or legal status, right ? You are still just a private citizen, not a LEO in any way, no matter what your free ‘Junior Deputy’ badge says.”

    There is no special legal status or additional rights, per se.

    Being an accepted member of an established Neighborhood Watch with police coordination/oversight can provide some modest rhetorical presumption that you’re not simply some trigger-happy vigilante who was just out looking to shoot a “child” for daring to possess”candy and soda” and commit the crime of “wearing a hoodie” and “being black in a gated community.”

    Being a member of the NW makes it somewhat harder for the prosecutor to suggest to the jury that the whole thing could have been avoided if only you’d minded your own business. If there’s a formal NW, and you’re a member, there’s an objectively reasonable explanation for why you DIDN’T just mind your own business.

    But that’s about it.

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

      “…can provide some modest rhetorical presumption that you’re not simply some trigger-happy vigilante…”

      “…harder for the prosecutor …”

      “…objectively reasonable explanation …” etc

      Really ? How did that work out for George Zimmerman ? 🙁

        Phillep Harding in reply to pjm. | November 6, 2013 at 12:35 pm

        And Holder is talking about maybe bringing charges against GZ.

        Being a member of an organized Neighborhood Watch program DID help Zimmerman.

        Do you think his defense counsel’s narrative of innocence would have been stronger or weaker had Zimmerman NOT been an active Neighborhood Watch volunteer, whose very responsibility in that role was to notice and call in suspicious behavior?

        Would it have been easier or harder for the State to convince the jurors that he was a rogue vigilante, had he not been acting under the aegis of a PD facilitated Neighborhood Watch program?

        –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

amatuerwrangler | November 6, 2013 at 11:02 am

It is interesting that none of the city’s adjustments of the CW do anything to enhance the general intention of the organization: to put more sets of eyes and ears out there to help the police in responding to potential problems before they impact the citizens.

Maybe some publicity about what happened to the last potential burglar/thief who decided to confront and assault a member of the NW might deter the next guy who thought a life of crime was for him. Maybe a scene photo of TM with the caption “rehabilitated thug”. Yes, you’re right, I am not quite ready for prime time.

Doesn’t Florida have a firearms preemption law anyway, that generally bans localities from regulating firearms? Would that apply to a locality trying to disarm their neighborhood watch?

    It’s not “pre-emption” if you are voluntarily placing yourself under the rule–there is no governmental coercion in that situation.

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

      And I then carry anyway. Then one day the shit hits the fan, like in the GZ case.

      They say ‘You violated the NW rule about guns’.

      I say ‘So what ? I decided not to follow it, as is my right because it’s not a law. I also decided not to announce that fact, because I have no obligation to do so. What’s your point ?’.

      I may have ‘voluntarily placed myself under the rule’, well, I just ‘voluntarily changed my mind’.

      I have to clarify something here.

      There are two seperate entities that perform civilian crime watch functions. One is the Neighborhood Watch and other is the Citizens On Patrol.

      The Neighborhood Watch is a group of civilian, not officially affiliated with the local law enforcement agency, who band together for the purpose of detecting potential criminal threats to their community. The may accept advice from local law enforcement agency, but they are not part of it. In Florida, no political entity has any authority to regulate such an affiliation. Therefor, any attempt to make a rule or pass an ordinance which would in anyway control the bearing of arms by Neighborhood Watch members, legally licensed to do so, would be a violation of 790.33, the Florida preemption statute.

      Citizens on Patrol, on the other hand, is an official organization of the local law enforcement agency. It is sponsored, funded and controlled directly by the LE agency and its members have access to departmental assets not available to the general public. The agency also assumes liability for the actions of members of this group. For this reason, the agency can control membership and set rules of conduct for the members while they are acting as visible members of the organization. This would include establishing a rule which bans the possession of firearms, by the members while “on duty”. It would not be a violaiton of 790.33.

Outlaw national party committees. Unelected bureaucrats should not pick We The People’s candidates. We need to break the establishment’s stranglehold on elections.


What do you expect from an incompetent affirmative action police chief?