Off Beat: Local volunteers discouraged from carrying weapons on patrol

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

Published:

 

When neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman allegedly shot and killed Trayvon Martin in February, it raised a lot of questions. When we wrote a story on a local neighborhood patrol program, we failed to mention that a similar confrontation isn't likely to happen here, according to officials.

Packing heat is a no-no for Neighbors on Watch volunteers with the Vancouver Police Department and Clark County Sheriff's Office.

Vancouver coordinator Kelley Cheney said volunteers aren't even allowed to carry pocket knives when on patrol.

"This is a highly visible, nonconfrontational, observe-and-report program," she said.

Neighbors on Watch volunteers shouldn't get into a situation in which they would need to defend themselves, said Sgt. Shane Gardner, who works with the sheriff's program.

"It's not vigilantism," he said.

Sheriff's Sgt. Fred Neiman said he first ran into the issue of volunteers and weapons a few years ago. A participant in the sheriff's Citizen's Academy who had a clean background check asked Neiman if he could bring his concealed weapon to class.

"I appreciate him calling me frankly," Neiman said.

He told the man, who had a concealed weapon permit, he'd have to give his boss, Sheriff Garry Lucas, a call. Neiman and Lucas decided it wasn't the best idea and asked the man to leave his gun in a secure place during class.

Neiman said he has no objections to people who legally carry a firearm, "but there's a time and place for it."

Apparently that isn't in the Clark County Courthouse, in nonpublic areas of law enforcement agencies or when you're on patrol as a NOW volunteer.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.