Watching the Watchers: The Growing Privatization of Criminal Law Enforcement and the Need for Limits on Neighborhood Watch Associations
On the night of February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, a member of a neighborhood watch program, was patrolling his community in Sanford, Florida, when he spotted Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old Africa-American high school student, walking through the neighborhood. Zimmerman dialed 911 and indicated that he was following "a real suspicious guy". The police dispatcher requested that Zimmerman discontinue following Martin, but he ignored the request and approached the teenager. In the resulting confrontation, Zimmerman used his legally owned semi-automatic handgun to shoot and kill Trayvon Martin. Martin, who was unarmed, had been returning from a local convenience store. George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder. At the time of this writing, it is unclear whether Zimmerman will be proven guilty of the offense. What is certain is that despite the fact that Zimmerman was engaged in law enforcement activities, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments that restrict police efforts in detaining, searching and interrogating suspects do not apply to neighborhood watch organizations. In many states neighborhood watch members may carry firearms and are protected from having to retreat when confronted by a suspect under "stand your ground" laws. Consequently, neighborhood watch members wield significant authority, but they lack the training and limitations to which police are subject. This article proposes statutory provisions that would limit the ability of neighborhood watch members to confront suspects, mandate training for those engaged in law enforcement activities, and expand the exclusionary rule to evidence seized illegally by private citizens engaged in law enforcement functions. In this way, legislatures would better ensure that due process guarantees are not abandoned when law enforcement activities are privatized.