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WDAY: The News Leader

Published March 26, 2012, 10:16 PM

A closer look at the role of neighborhood watch programs in local communities

West Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - With the national uproar over the Trayvon Martin case, many people are questioning the true role of a neighborhood watch. Seventeen year-old Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood crime watch captain, who claims he felt threatened by Martin who was unarmed.

With the national uproar over the Trayvon Martin case, many people are questioning the true role of a neighborhood watch. Seventeen year-old Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood crime watch captain, who claims he felt threatened by Martin who was unarmed.

The West Fargo police Department launched a neighborhood watch program about 5 years ago to encourage people to become involved in crime prevention and detection. Officers say no one should ever confront or follow a suspicious person.

Onalee Sellheim – Neighborhood Watch Committee: “We were not to go chasing anybody or taking it upon ourselves to get in our vehicles and chase them, we were always very explicit, we were always told you call us first.”

Onalee Sellheim lives in the Sommerset community in West Fargo. She has been a member of its neighborhood watch for about 2 years.

Onalee Sellheim: “It just made people more comfortable in the neighborhood knowing that we were kind of on the watch, we were watching out for them.”

To be a member, Sellheim had to go through training with the West Fargo Police Department. Here they taught her and other committee members their duties and what boundaries not to cross.

Miles Orth: “That's what we are here for, we are here to go after the criminals, we certainly appreciate when citizens contact us and give us the information, but we certainly don’t want them going after the criminals themselves.”

Support Service Officer Miles Orth works closely with the neighborhood watch programs around West Fargo. He teaches a few simple steps: Discover, gather information, and then report.

Miles Orth: “They are our eyes and ears, but not your, not the enforcing part.”

Sellheim thinks the whole situation with Trayvon Martin is very sad. She says Zimmerman was right to alert police of what he thought was suspicious activity, but he says he crossed the line going after him.

Onalee Sellheim: “The police officer or the 911 dispatcher made it very clear that he shouldn't have been following him, and that really stuck in my mind to what we were told and what we learned.”

There are currently about 3 formal neighborhood watch programs in the West Fargo area. Any neighborhood can start one. All you have to do it talk to people in your community and once you have a group, contact the police department. Then they will set the group up with a class and you become an established neighborhood and you will get signs posted like this in your neighborhood.

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