ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) –Local police departments are reaching out to their Neighborhood Watch volunteers after last month’s shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in an Orlando suburb.
Trayvon Martin, 17, was returning from a trip to a convenience store when 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch captain, started following him, telling police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman pulled out his gun.
Zimmerman told police Martin attacked him after he had given up on chasing the teenager and was returning to his sport utility vehicle.
The shooting ignited resentment toward the police department in the Orlando suburb for not making an arrest.
Because of the incident, local police officers who coordinate with Neighborhood Watch volunteers are going over the Do’s and Don’ts to prevent a similar incident from happening in St. Louis.
This week the Fenton bureau of the St. Louis County Police Department sent out several hundred emails to Neighborhood Watch volunteers to make sure they were clear on their responsibilities.
“For a Neighborhood Watch group, this is what we intended to set up,” said Officer Aaron Dilks. “A Neighborhood Watch group program is to be the eyes and ears in the neighborhood and let us know good information.”
Neighborhood Watch volunteers are asked to pass along crime prevention tips from police to their neighbors. They’re also asked to tell police what they see and hear.
Police say Neighborhood Watch volunteers will keep an eye out and then call if they see something suspicious or invaluable. But the last thing that police want is for a resident – a volunteer - to take matters into their own hands.”
“We don’t need that,” said Dilks. “Just stand back, call us, get a good description of what’s going on, but don’t get involved.”
Dilks said the bottom line is to avoid a tragic mistake and leave the police work to the police.
Meanwhile, a large group of people gathered outside St. Louis City Hall Friday morning to protest over Trayvon Martin’s death. Organizers of the march asked attendees to wear hooded sweatshirts, like Martin was wearing when he was shot. Marchers also waved Skittles candy, which he had when he was killed.
Another vigil was scheduled for Friday night at the Sons of Rest Shelter in Tower Grove Park from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.