Armed sheriff's posse volunteers to resume school patrols

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck
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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. – Armed members of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Posse will once again patrol schools in unincorporated areas of the county.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio launched the school patrols in early 2013 in response to the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, 2012.

While they are not permitted on the campuses, hundreds of uniformed volunteers will patrol around dozens of elementary, middle and high schools in the county's jurisdiction. That jurisdiction includes cities like Anthem, Sun City, Gila Bend and Queen Creek.

According to MCSO, the posse volunteers will be armed. Some even have been trained with assault rifles.

Much like the posse’s patrols at Valley shopping malls during the holiday season, the idea is to create a visible law-enforcement presence near the schools. The goal is to deter crime. In addition to acting as a deterrent, the patrols put personnel close to the schools, in a position to respond quickly should something happen.

Arpaio has been confident in his posse from the very first patrol in the early '90s.

"We've done this posse program [at malls] for 20 years," Arpaio told 3TV's Scott Pasmore before the school patrols started in January. "I hope this acts as a deterrent. I hope nothing happens, that we don't have to take massive actions."

Last school year, sheriff's deputies arrested three teenagers who allegedly threatened to kill fellow students. Those three incidents were not connected.

The first incident happened just days after the Sandy Hook shooting and involved a 16-year-old girl at Mesa's Red Mountain High School. Investigators said her plan involved a bomb.

The second case was a month later at Frank Elementary School in Guadalupe. Investigators said a 10-year-old boy planned to stab another student for "snitching" on him.

The third incident happened at Dysart High School in El Mirage in early February. Investigators said a 16-year-old boy allegedly took a loaded gun to school and threatened to shoot a younger boy.

After deputies arrested that teen, Arpaio said those three incidents were "why I sent out the armed posse in the first place."

When the school patrols launch in January, parents’ reactions were mixed. While many supported Arpaio’s efforts to keep their children safe, others were concerned that the posse members were armed.

“This program apparently has its opponents, including some elected officials who have made comments against it,” Arpaio said in a news release Monday. “But I know sending the posse back to our schools is the right thing to do and that discontinuing this program would be a mistake.

“These posse volunteers are well trained, including in the use of assault weapons, well equipped and ready for action,” Arpaio continued. “I have full confidence in their abilities, judgment and their willingness to do whatever is necessary to keep students and teachers safe.”