Armed MCSO posse patrols begin at Arizona schools

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. -- In a somewhat controversial move, members of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's volunteer posse started patrolling some Maricopa County schools as students returned from winter break.

Some parents were startled.

"They have guns? No, I don't like that and I can't believe something like this would be implemented without speaking to parents first," Susanne Ross said.

Others voiced support for Arpaio's plan and the posse volunteers.

"I think it's good for kids," parent Monica Gibbs told 3TV as she picked her child up from school Monday afternoon.
"I think it's a great idea," Keith Dale said. "A school resource officer would be best, but otherwise, I like having the sheriff's posse."

"I just think their presence might be a deterrent, so that'd be OK," Shelley Moberg said.

That is Arpaio's goal.

"It's not a secret," Arpaio said. "I want everyone to know we're there. Maybe the bad guys will worry about it." 

The posse members will patrol outside the school grounds.

"We're not going in the schools unless there's a serious situation," Arpaio said. "If they have to go into the school to stop any havoc, they're going in there."

Congress is expected to weigh in on school security and gun control of some form, and Mesa's Rep. Matt Salmon put his support behind Arpaio's armed patrols.

"I think the posse and sheriff have stepped up and filled a void in the community when it comes to security," Salmon said. "I think it's a good idea."  

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.

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.

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.