LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. - The George Zimmerman case has brought the jobs of Neighborhood Watch members to the forefront. They work to keep local communities safe and say it's caused them to take a closer look and educate the public on what they do.
Lehigh Acres has 63 Neighborhood Watch groups. Members are watching and analyzing the Zimmerman trial so they can better, and more safely serve their communities.
In the 5 years since Steven McGiffin helped launch the Neighborhood Watch in his Lehigh community, he says crime rates have dropped while fellowship has flourished.
"We all work to pick up trash in the area, keep things clean and it really helps," McGiffin said. "It makes people want to live here."
But, in the year and a half since neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in his Sanford community, it's been crucial to educate everyone on what they do and what they don't do.
"They want to call me and tell me of a crime happening in the area, and I say don't call me, you need to get ahold of the Sheriff's Office," McGiffin said.
While there has been some stigma associated with the case, he says it opens up the lines of communication.
"We've had a few people when we've gone around door-to-door say, oh, you know, look what happened over there and you want me to be a part of it," McGiffin explained. "Really, with the George Zimmerman case, what we've tried telling people is, we are a non-confrontational group. We do not get in anyone's face. We do not have the training that the Sheriff's Office, the deputies do."
Neighbors like Marcia Charistie sleep easier knowing they're a tight-knit community. "We live in a world where there are so many things going on," Charistie said. "While it's not a perfect situation, we can really be comfortable knowing the community is behind each other."
While many await the verdict, McGiffin hopes they can take what's happened in the trial thus far to help them better serve their neighborhoods. "I told everyone, pay attention, take notes if you want, let's discuss all these issues as they are presented through the trial so we can talk about them and see what he did right and what they did wrong, where this could've all been prevented," McGiffin said. "Becauseb no one wants to see anyone lose their life."
The watch groups meet monthly with a Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention Specialist. Once the trial ends, they plan to get together and talk about what happened in and out of the courtroom.