ALBANY — Neighborhood watch leaders and Albany Police Department officials agree that carrying guns by volunteers is not a good practice.
Following the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., Feb. 26 by a neighborhood watch volunteer, Albany watch leaders said they do not believe watch members here carry or should carry guns.
"None of our members should carry a gun. If they do, they don't do it as part of the (neighborhood watch) program," said Dr. Charles B. Gillespie of the Doublegate neighborhood watch. "There are no formal rules about it, but that is what I try to communicate to all our members."
Neighborhood watch is a program that is supposed to be the eyes and ears of the police, who cannot be everywhere, said another organization leader.
"Based on my age, experience and love of life, I think neighborhood watch is just what they say it is — a watch," said Robert Montgomery of the East Town Subdivision Neighborhood Watch. "If you arm yourself, it leads to vigilantism."
Watch leaders said the members of their organizations rarely if ever confront suspicious people as was reported in the Florida case. Albany neighborhood watch volunteers call non-emergency law enforcement numbers to report suspicious people. If there is an emergency, they call 911.
"We urge people not to pursue anyone. Use the telephone," Albany Police Department spokeswoman Phyllis Banks said. "They should call us. Officers are trained to go in and handle suspicious situations."
Although guidelines have been given to neighborhood watch groups, there are no formal rules, Banks said. She is at work on a more formal presentation that will outline information and explain the roles of neighborhood watch personnel.
The fatal shooting of Martin has sparked nationwide protests and controversy.
"Everything needs to be brought out in the open," Gillespie said. "I just feel sorry for the family and their child."