Burien Block Watch Members Advised to Watch, Listen, Call Police

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Trayvon Martin

by Ralph Nichols

The fatal Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American, has not only heightened racial tensions and spurred a rush to judgment – it has also has raised questions about police guidelines for Block Watch members.

And, Burien Police Sgt. Henry McLauchlan told The B-Town Blog this week, Block Watch members are urged to avoid confrontations and risk getting somebody hurt. “Block Watch members are our eyes and ears, and should call us when they see something suspicious.”

As probably everyone knows by now, Martin was shot by George Zimmerman, 28, sometimes described as a “white Hispanic.” Zimmerman is a community Block Watch coordinator in his Florida community neighborhood.

After calling 911 to report that he was following someone walking in the neighborhood whose behavior was suspicious, Zimmerman ignored the dispatcher’s advice and continued to trail that person, who turned out to be Martin.

Zimmerman, who was legally carrying a concealed gun, told police that Martin turned on him and assaulted him. He said that during the struggle, he shot Martin in self-defense. Zimmerman has not been arrested, and a grand jury is now looking into the killing.

Although many facts in this case have yet to come to light, that didn’t stop Burien City Councilman Jack Block Jr. from wearing a hoodie – like Martin wore when he was shot – at the March 26 city council meeting to show solidarity with those calling “justice for Trayvon.”

This tragedy has raised questions locally, among both Block Watch members and others in the community, about the proper role of Block Watch members when they see suspicious activity in their neighborhoods.

Block Watch Training
“All the training and continuing education we provide for our Block Watch members is presented in a way to help them make their communities safer,” McLauchlan said. “We tell them they are the eyes and ears of the police, but we urge them to be very conscientious and safe when they are out keeping watch for their neighbors.

“The Block Watch program is very conservative when it comes to confronting suspicious persons. We suggest that the best approach is for them to simply ask a person unknown to a Block Watch member if they can help. By asking this question, the person of interest is put on notice that someone is aware of their activity and watching them.”

McLauchlan said this type of “unobtrusive question is also inoffensive if the ‘unknown’ is the new neighbor two houses down the street.”

Police also suggest that if an unknown, uninvited person knocks at their door, they should answer safely, perhaps from an upstairs window or through a locked front door, rather than not answer the door at all.

“By responding to the knock at the door the “potential would-be burglar” knows someone is home and doesn’t start looking for a way to get in to the ‘unoccupied’ victim’s home,” he said.

But, McLauchlan added, “At no time would we want anyone to confront somebody which results in someone getting hurt. Just be suspicious of everything and never ignore something out of place. They need to remember that Block Watch members are our eyes and ears, and call us when it looks like something is suspicious or a crime is taking place.”

Firearms Not Part of Block Watch Programs
He emphasized that the Burien Police Department “has never advocated that Block Watch members carry firearms even with a concealed weapon permit. Carrying firearms is not part of any Block Watch program anywhere that I am aware of.

“Legally carrying firearms is an individual choice, a very complex choice,” McLauchlan continued. “Our officers receive many, many hours of training on how and when lethal force is appropriate.

“Even with all the many hours of intense training, when appropriate force is used, the following investigation, legal proceedings and criticism that are required can be painful and leaves trained professionals drained. The nightmares an individual faces, even if the shooting is ‘justified,’ will be beyond comprehension.”

Basic Defense Tools
McLauchlan said the best defense for any person “is the basic tools we have always taught. It starts with the grey matter between their ears, engaging one’s brain.

“Once the brain is engaged, using ‘Knowledge,’ being ‘Prepared,’ being ‘Aware,’ and ‘Avoiding’ potential trouble are the key elements to keeping you, your family and neighbors safe,” he continued.

“We want to help create a situation that makes the community safer with heightened awareness and visibility, the basic foundation of Block Watch programs everywhere.”

Credible Criminal Investigations
As for public reaction to the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, McLauchlan said “anytime a life is lost, for whatever reason, it’s a tragedy.

But “credible investigations require time to complete. Law enforcement follows the evidence which leads investigators to a determination of the entire event,” he continued. “With that determination, findings and future action can be made based on facts, not speculation or the court of public opinion.

“We need to continue working together to keep our communities and our city a safe place to live, work and raise kids.”

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7 Responses to “Burien Block Watch Members Advised to Watch, Listen, Call Police”
  1. Coverofnight says:

    Let’s see…..using a firearm against a criminal to protect my wife and children versus “…the nightmares an individual faces….”; I think I’ll be able to sleep very well at night, thank you. Please, don’t try to disarm through guilt the law-abiding citizens who truly fear the crime that police and lawyers can’t get under control.

    And Jack Block, Jr. really wore a hoodie to a council meeting? If true, I find that action offensive. I would gladly sign any recall petition on him for doing such a moronic act. If he’s so easily swayed by the news media, maybe we can have him entertain us at the next council meeting by watching him chase a red laser dot around on the floor…..that’s right, I said it!

  2. Lee Moyer says:

    The point of the article was how do defuse a situation, not win a confrontation, but that point seens ti have been lost on one who measures his safety by caliber. Does one who takes offense from a councilman’s choice of costume have the maturity to responsibly handle a fire arm?
    Disamament has nothing to do with it. Police also are trained to try to avoid or reduce conflict (although a few seem to have slept through those classes) but sometimes they have no choice. On rare occaisions a citizen has no choice either.

  3. TcB says:

    There are so many ambiguities in the Florida version of the “Stand your ground” law that this situation is going to be replayed constantly. There are other stories that are just as egregious that haven’t been getting the headline status of the Martin-Zimmerman story. Don’t forget that Washington has a law that does not require “duty to retreat” although I think it’s not so lax that it would allow this. Perhaps we should be finding out more about our own law and what could happen in our state. This story is a tragedy for the families of all involved in Florida. Let’s look to our own path and see that we aren’t about to wander off into the devils clubs (Oplopanax horridus).

    • Eaton B. Verz says:

      Greetings Tcb, This very thing could and has happened in WA state. (If we can believe Zimmerman). There is a real good little book/Pamphlet on our carry laws and use of firearms by civilians. It is by Dave Workman. It is not biased one way or the other, but clearly explains the rights ,duties and consequences of citizens who chose to carry firearms. Openly and concealed with a permit. An important read if anyone is wondering about our gun laws. I bet if you google Dave Workman and gun law it will pop right up. He is in North Bend. I would gladly loan you my copy upon request. Regards. Eaton

      • TcB says:

        Perhaps it should be displayed on the blog for all of us to understand. I support the ideas of self defense (especially if you believe that Burien is turning into a war zone which I don’t). I read stories of homes being broken into during day and night, of people not very far away being murdered in the night. The story of the women who were brutalized, raped and one of them killed in South Park comes to mind. In these situations I would definitely want to have something to defend myself nearby. I would want to make sure that the law does NOT allow some of the things that I’ve heard have been happening in Florida where law enforcement just seems to give up as soon as someone says “self defense”. Here’s a link to a Sun sentinal article that appears to be well written and thoughtful. http://southflorida.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-stand-your-ground–justifiable-homicides-20120401,0,7706932.story

        • Eaton B. Verz says:

          It’s about 100 +- pages so this is probably not the place tp post it. Gun ownership is a real indiividual decision and I support the individuals right to make that decision. With the rise in concealed carry permits and the rash of home self defense shootings I can only hope that gun owners be responsible enough to understand the law before they consider using their firearm in self defense. It is a REAL fine line between being right or wrong. I also hope that all gun owners would get some proper training because that and knowledge of the law will pay dividends to all citizens. Eaton.

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