By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
In recent years, there have been a small number of incidents of defensive gun use and/or concealed carrying concerning people that are in a neighborhood watch, or at least claimed to be. George Zimmerman, for instance, was in the neighborhood watch in Sanford, Fla., when the incident he was involved in took place.
These organizations have deep historical roots, as volunteer watchmen have roamed communities for thousands of years from the era classical Greece through the present.
Today there are a number of national and local organizations for volunteer watch persons. For instance, there is the National Neighborhood Watch Program, part of the National Sheriff’s Association, as well as the Guardian Angels and Crime Stoppers. Many cities have municipal programs in cooperation with local law enforcement. A good deal of homeowner’s associations have watch programs and then there are just concerned neighbors that informally agree to keep tabs on things.
Where does concealed carry fit in with this? Well, just as with anything else, a person conceals and carries in case of something bad happening. However, some people get funny ideas about just what a person can do if a member of a neighborhood watch.
The self-defense laws of most states outline when force of any kind can be used, and when deadly force can be used; the use of a firearm is the latter. For deadly force to be legally excusable – note the word is “excusable,” because a person gets cleared of liability after the fact – there has to be a clear and reasonable threat to life or limb (in other words a risk of serious injury) or – in the case of states with such a law – there has to be a felony clearly in commission for a person to use deadly force.
In other words, it is excusable to shoot a person is they posed a clear threat to a person’s life or a clear threat of great physical harm (either to the actor or a third party) or were clearly in the act of committing a felony. If those conditions aren’t met, it isn’t excusable.
In fairness, there haven’t been too many instances of vigilantism in actual neighborhood watch organizations. The incident involving George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was hardly vigilantism.
The incident involving Chad Copley, however, may well have been. Copley is currently (at the time of this writing) facing murder charges in North Carolina claimed to be a member of the neighborhood watch when he shot Kouren Thomas (Thomas was unarmed) after Thomas left a party held at a house down the street from Copley’s. His claims have been refuted by members of the actual neighborhood watch in his community.
No organization of this type makes a participant an auxiliary police officer, even if the neighborhood watch organization is managed by local law enforcement. The purpose of such bodies is to observe and report, not intervene. In fact, police departments would caution people participating in neighborhood watches to call authorities.
The National Crime Prevention Council – remember the commercials with the cartoon dog detective McGruff? – advocates exactly as much on their website. The National Neighborhood Watch program, part of the National Sheriff’s Association cautions likewise against citizens intervening against crime.
A person in such an organization certainly can (and should) conceal and carry, but shouldn’t go looking for trouble – suspicious activity should be reported to the police and law enforcement as it is their job to follow up on a report. That said, neighborhood watch organizations are one of the best methods for members of the public to help fight crime. If a person is concerned about home security, which goes hand-in-hand with concealed carry, participating in such an organization is a highly efficacious method of helping to keep local crime in check.
For instance, WKRN, a Nashville, Tenn., ABC affiliate reports an East Nashville watch program yielded a 6.7 percent reduction over the past year. A Department of Justice report analyzed a number of studies into neighborhood watch groups, finding that while not always effective (and also that many studies are flawed) an average reduction of up to 16 percent in local crime was observed compared to control neighborhoods without neighborhood watch programs…when the programs were effective. A study at the University of Glamorgan in Scotland, according to Slate, examined such programs in the UK, US and Canada, found similarly that crime is reduced when the programs actually work.
However, a number of studies also indicate that neighborhood watch programs don’t work well in inner city areas with higher crime and poverty rates; watch programs tend to flounder within a few months of beginning in such areas compared to other areas.
Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.