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Sanford police chief: Neighborhood watch programs need 'good, hard look'

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Wed May 9, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Richard Myers, a 35-year veteran, is expected to serve for three to five months
  • Sanford police have been under a microscope since the killing of Trayvon Martin
  • Myers wants to strengthen police relationship with the black community

(CNN) -- The man tasked with leading the police department in Sanford, Florida, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing said communities should "take a good, hard look at who is selected," for neighborhood watch programs.

But, said Sanford's interim Police Chief Richard Myers, he still supports the programs.

"Neighborhood watch is at work in literally thousands of neighborhoods across the country and with no problems whatsoever," Myers told CNN's Erin Burnett on Tuesday. "I think the problems emerge from who the person is and perhaps there's a cause for communities to take a good, hard look at who is selected or who volunteers.

"Let's not kill the concept because of one bad, really bad outcome."

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Myers, a former police chief from Colorado Springs, Colorado, took the post Friday. He said he has plans to help the department that has been under the microscope since the February 26 killing of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Martin was black; Zimmerman is Hispanic.

"I'm here to help the community. There's a lot of healing that has to take place," Myers said. "I'm here to help the department get some stability."

His predecessor, Bill Lee, stepped aside as chief after a vote of no-confidence by city commissioners in April, clearing the way for Myers.

The Martin case drew nationwide protests when Sanford police decided against arresting Zimmerman, who told investigators he killed Martin in self-defense.

A special prosecutor assigned to look into Martin's death ultimately brought second-degree murder charges against the 28-year-old Zimmerman, who has pleaded not guilty and is out on a $150,000 bail.

Myers, a 35-year law enforcement veteran, acknowledged the Sanford police department needs to rebuild its relationship with African-Americans in the area.

"One of my major goals is to try and strengthen the relationship that Sanford police have with all elements of the community, especially the African-American community," he said.

"In America today, there still exists a great deal of unresolved tension about race and policing and I have a particular passion for working on those issues and helping to resolve conflict. So whether or not that was a factor in this case, it certainly is a factor in some tension that exists. We're going to work on that."

Myers began his career in the suburbs of Detroit and Chicago before becoming chief of the Appleton, Wisconsin, police department. After that, he took the reins of the Colorado Springs police department in 2007.

Myers resigned that post in 2011. Myers is supposed to spend a three- to five-month stint leading the Sanford department, city officials have said.

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