Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Neighborhood watch is not 'a vigilante force'

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

Neighborhood watch means watch. It means being the eyes and ears for police without crossing a line that civilians should not cross.

The reverberations of the Trayvon Martin killing by Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman has become a referendum about race in America, but it never should have gotten that far.

In the context of neighborhood watch, I know the difference between what happened in Sanford, Fla., and what happens every day in Sacramento.

The difference is people like Barbara Falcon. She's a neighborhood watch volunteer who trains other volunteers in her community of Valley Hi.

For 15 years, Falcon only lamented what was going on around her.

Then about eight years ago, she got involved.

"My neighborhood had gone to the dogs," said Falcon, 63, who is retired from UC Davis. "We had a huge crime problem, code enforcement issues. Everything was taking a nose dive."

Marijuana and neglected children were not uncommon on Falcon's streets.

At her first watch meeting, only five people showed up. "We were dejected, tired and frustrated," she said.

She was driven by a sense of community to help things get better.

Sacramento Police Department stalwarts Matt Young and Dan Schiele were invited to her home and she took their words to heart.

"They trained us," Falcon said.

"They taught us that nothing is more important than us. That nothing was more important than our safety," she said. "They taught us that we were not to follow, engage or apprehend."

On the Sac PD website, it clearly says what neighborhood watch is not: "A vigilante force working outside the normal procedures of the local police department."

Do any of Falcon's neighborhood watch volunteers carry firearms? "No," she said.

Has she ever had to intervene when one of her volunteers crossed the line?

"Yes," she said. "It was painful. It was someone that I care about who became too overzealous. It is not us who decides what needs to happen. It is our place to make the phone call."

Her most important message: "I teach people not to be afraid," she said.

"We've gone through a lot in our community, but we haven't had a single retaliatory incident."

Falcon convinced her daughter to move close by with her grandson. Her mission of preaching safety is informed by someone invested – someone who wants peace.

"In our neighborhood we have a woman who is blind who sings to us. Our theme song is 'Lean on Me.' It talks about what a friend, what a neighborhood is. This neighborhood belongs to us."

Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096. Back columns, Follow him on Twitter @marcosbreton.