Zimmerman trial sparks debate over neighborhood watch - KMSP-TV

Zimmerman trial sparks debate over neighborhood watch responsibilities

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DECATUR, Ga. -

The George Zimmerman case in Florida has fueled discussions over how far neighbors should go in fighting crime in their communities.

Residents in DeKalb County have packed community meetings in recent days to express their frustration about a series of crimes in their community. They've also met with police to discuss what they can do to fight crime in their neighborhoods.

Like so many cities nationwide, the deadly confrontation between neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman and 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has sparked debate in Decatur over how residents respond to crime concerns in their own communities.

"I think people should look out for each other and definitely call the police if something's going on or if they feel suspicious activity is going on, but just not take matters into their own hands," said Victoria Lett.

In the quiet DeKalb suburb, which has experienced a rash of burglaries and robberies over the past month, "see something, say something" is the common theme.

Residents rely on social media and word of mouth, while working closely with law enforcement, calling police to report suspicious activity.

"Everyone really just kind of keeps an eye out for each other, and I think, you know, there's definitely some things that have been happening, the crime has increased, but I don't think it's the norm," said Bobbie Henry. "I still think Decatur's a very safe place to be. I think that you just have to be aware and let other people know that we're looking out for each other."

While a Florida jury found Zimmerman acted in self-defense, the case is still being tried in the court of public opinion, and has some residents rethinking how to protect their homes     

"As an adult, I feel like you should know your place," said Debbie Lester.  "If you call the police and they respond, because they do respond pretty well, why would you take it upon yourself? Don't take it upon yourself, because you don't know the outcome of you taking it upon yourself. It can be detrimental towards you or someone else."

Police said that they welcome the public's help and encourage residents to report any suspicious activity. At the same time, they say they do not want the public putting themselves in harm's way in a potentially dangerous situation.

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