Local Civic Leader Opposes Watch Group Patrolling, Wants Change
Last week, George Zimmerman pleaded not guilty in the death of Treyvon Martin. The neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed the unarmed black teen while patrolling his gated community in Sanford, Florida on Feb. 26.
Zimmerman's attorneys have said they will use Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground Law as his defense.
Louisiana has a similar justifiable homicide law.
Here in Baton Rouge, Ricky Shaffer heads the Sherwood Forest Civic Association in one of the city's largest neighborhoods, and is the former president of Sherwood Forest Eye-Watch.
Shaffer says he opposes the idea of watch group volunteers patrolling their neighborhoods.
SHAFFER: I had been asked before about maybe doing some walking patrols and that's not going to happen. I don't think that's the correct thing to do. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office has been very good, we pay them to work extra duty. They work in there and they patrol in our neighborhood. But I do want to try and see if we can get some more people involved in the Eye-Watch Program. The more eyes that we have out there and the more ears that we have out there looking for suspicious activity is very helpful to the Baton Rouge Police Department as well as the Sheriff's Office.
WESTERMAN: You were part of the Sheriff's Office for a while?
SHAFFER: Yes ma'am, that's correct.
WESTERMAN: So to be a Watch Captain, do you have to have any sort of training?
SHAFFER: Well, there's really no training. My goal as President is to hold several meetings throughout the year and I'll get Captain Augilar from the Sheriff's office to come speak. And you know tell people what they need to do, what they can do, what they can't do, what's expected of them, what not to do. And, basically, just be, and I know I'm repeating myself over and over about extra eyes and extra ears.
WESTERMAN: When you talk about expectations, do any of your watch group participants carry firearms? Do you recommend that at all? What do you think about that?
SHAFFER: Not to my knowledge. Like you said, that was one of the first things that I talked about was anything that looks suspicious we need to call 911. And we have to use good judgment when we do that. It needs to be some type of suspicious activity, criminal activity you know first aid calls, auto accidents, heart attacks, what not. But, as far as us, you know, following someone or if we see something, we need to just call 911 and talk to the police. Stay on the phone with the dispatcher, stay as calm as you can. And under no circumstances would I advise anyone to pursue anyone and I'm sure there are people in our neighborhood that have concealed weapon permits; I'm not positive how many do. But that's how I stand on that. I mean, I wouldn't encourage anyone to do that. Now, I'm a former police officer and it would depend on what was going on if I would do anything and at my age, I don't know if I would.
WESTERMAN: How much crime happens in your neighborhood on an annual basis?
SHAFFER: It's average car burglaries, we had maybe two in one month, maybe home burglaries. Really there's a surrounding area around us that seems to have a little more problems. I really firmly believe that our neighborhood is still one of the safest places to be.
WESTERMAN: Neighborhood watch groups, do you think they do a better job at deterring crime from happening or do you think they do a better job of notifying either while it's happening or after it's happening?
SHAFFER: I think they do a good job in both of those questions. Watching, looking, making notes. I encourage people that are our block captains, with cell phones now, just about every cell phone has a camera on it. Criminals do not like their pictures taken. Like I tell them, even if it doesn't take pictures, act like it's takes pictures. They do not like to be photographed. Any suspicious activity, like Policeman Dwayne White told me one time, "If we don't get calls about it, we don't know about it. And if something happens, we'd rather go out and check it and just call us."
WESTERMAN: Thank you for speaking with us, Mr. Shaffer.
SHAFFER: You're welcome.