How much power should neighborhood watches have?

2:44 PM, Mar 22, 2012   |    comments
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SEMINOLE HEIGHTS, Florida - In light of the shooting death of  Central Florida Trayvon Martin, how much power should a neighborhood watch have?

Christie Hess has lived in Seminole Heights since 1994 and is active in the Neighborhood Watch. "You are basically the eyes and ears of the Tampa Police Department," she said.

Related: Trayvon Martin 911 calls

She's gone through hours of training and knows the rules, especially the more important ones. "You call the dispatcher, give them a description, a direction the individual was headed, why you thought the person was suspicious, and go back home," she said.

Hess added there are about 60 people that make up the Seminole Heights Neighborhood Watch and any time they're out patrolling the streets, they have to wear t-shirts to identify themselves. She also said at no time do they ever carry anything considered to be a weapon. That's why Hess can't understand the death of Sanford teen Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed and walking inside a subdivision where relatives lived when he was shot.

Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman called police about a suspicious person. During the released 911 call, the operator asked Zimmerman if he was following the person, later identified as Trayvon. Zimmerman said he was, and the operator said, "We don't need you to do that."

Zimmerman did not listen.

He and Trayvon ended up in a scuffle and the 17-year-old was hit in the chest. Zimmerman is claiming self defense and has not been arrested.

Hess believes there is no reason the teen should have ended up dead. "It's very discouraging that someone would behave like that under the umbrella of Neighborhood Watch," she said.

Prosecutors in Sanford said there will be a thorough investigation into Trayvon's death. Meanwhile, lawyers for his family said the 911 calls prove the shooting was not self defense and they believe two shots were fired. If local law enforcement does not arrest Zimmerman, they want federal authorities to take over.

Reverend Al Sharpton is expected to travel to Central Florida next week to hold a rally for the teen.

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