Sheriff's posse members to start patrolling schools this week

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. -- In a somewhat controversial move, members of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's volunteer posse are slated to start patrolling some Maricopa County schools.

Some of those posse members reportedly have criminal pasts. That's where the controversy comes in.

An MCSO spokesman said those people have already faced disciplinary action in connection with their crimes, either avoided felony convictions or petitioned to have their records expunged, and are now moving on.

Most of the schools that will be patrolled are located in county islands. The patrols will not be on the campuses, but rather in the area surrounding the schools. The idea is to have a visible law-enforcement presence around the schools.

“But if our lives were threatened or a child's life was threatened, a teacher’s life was threatened and we see that while on patrol, we would be prepared to take some kind of action,” posse member Jerry Johnson said.

Some 3,000 people are part of the sheriff's posse. While all of them are volunteers, even paying for all their own guns and equipment, posse members are insured by MCSO.  The county would therefore likely be on the hook for any liability if some kind of accident happened during a school patrol.

“I have the authority to mobilize private citizens and fight crime in this county,” Arpaio said two weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He said he does not need permission from the schools or the districts to launch these patrols.

Volunteers will patrol schools in towns that fall under sole jurisdiction of the sheriff's office – places like Cave Creek, Anthem, Fountain Hills, Sun City, Litchfield Park, Gila Bend, Carefree, Queen Creek, Guadalupe - which he said amounts to about 50 grade, middle and high schools.

Arpaio first started using his posse to protect malls during the holiday shopping season in 1993 in response to violent incidents in prior years. Since then he said malls where his posse members are on patrol have had zero violent re-occurrences and patrols by his all-volunteer squad during the 2012 shopping season netted a record 31 arrests.

Arpaio said since the program has worked so well in malls he believes it will work just as well protecting schools.

While some of the patrols were expected to start Monday, other members were slated to undergo training. The program will be fully rolled out Wednesday.