Armed posse officially starts school patrols

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- Starting today, armed members of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's volunteer posse will be patrolling around dozens of Maricopa County schools.

Some posse members were out at a few schools earlier this week, but the full program rolled out Wednesday.

Reaction to Arpaio's new program has been mixed.

"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 told 3TV's Jared Dillingham earlier this week.

"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.

Deterrence is the idea.

The patrols will not be on school grounds, but rather around the campuses. The idea is to create a visual presence like the posse does at Valley malls during the holiday season.

"We've done this posse program for 20 years," Arpaio told 3TV's Scott Pasmore Wednesday morning, talking about his confidence in the plan. "I hope this acts as a deterrent. I hope nothing happens, that we don't have to take massive actions."

It's not clear if Arpaio will expand the patrol program to cover all schools in Maricopa County.

There are 3,000 volunteers, many of whom have jobs, in the posse, but only about 500 are armed.

While posse members pay for their own equipment, including weapons, they 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.

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's decision to send armed volunteers to patrol around the schools came in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and just a day after Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne proposed training and arming one person at every school.

“It may not be possible to afford a police officer in every school,” said Horne. “In that case, the next best solution is to have one person in the school trained to handle firearms, to handle emergency situations, and possessing a firearm in a secure location. This proposal is analogous to arming pilots on planes.”

“I support arming cops in the schools," Arpaio fired back. "If you have a cop that's armed you don't need a teacher that's armed."

The resource officer program that put cops on school campuses has been de-funded in recent years.

Arpaio and several posse members are expected to talk more about the school patrols at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

For the full list of schools that will be patrolled by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s posse click here.