PHOENIX – The sheriff for metropolitan Phoenix has launched a plan to have as many as 500 armed volunteers patrol areas just outside schools in an effort to guard against shootings like last month’s attack at a Connecticut elementary school that left 26 people dead.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office said Wednesday that the patrols were launched earlier this week at 59 schools in unincorporated areas and communities that pay his agency for police services.
Arpaio hopes to have as many as 400 posse volunteers and another 100 volunteers known as reserve deputies take part in the patrols.
The plan from the sheriff known for immigration enforcement and housing jail inmates in canvas tents has led some longtime critics to say Arpaio’s latest effort is meant to grab headlines and won’t be sustained over the long term.
“Why would people complain about my posse being in front of schools to act as prevention?” Arpaio asked, noting that he wants the patrols to last throughout the remainder of the school year.
The sheriff said school shootings in Connecticut and elsewhere and last month’s arrest of an Arizona student accused of planning an attack at her high school led to his decision to launch the patrols.
The volunteers, dressed in uniforms and driving patrol vehicles, won’t go onto school grounds unless they spot danger and won’t sit in stationary spots. Instead, they’ll patrol several schools as part of their driving routes.
Andrew Sanchez, a town council member in Guadalupe, said he doesn’t want the sheriff’s posse members patrolling outside schools in his town. The community of about 6,000 spends $1.2 million a year to have Arpaio’s office provide police protection.
“We are paying him to have certified deputies here, not to bring a circus and not to use our town as a political platform,” Sanchez said.
He predicted the volunteer patrols would disappear once media attention had faded.
Arpaio announced his plans Wednesday on the grounds of an elementary school, saying he wants the patrols publicized.
“I want everyone to know about it for the deterrence effect,” he said.
Arpaio said no taxpayer money would be spent on the patrols and volunteers will be supervised by radio or phone by deputies.
Monica Allread, spokeswoman for the Tempe Elementary School District, which includes an elementary school in Guadalupe, shied away from commenting on Arpaio’s new plan. But she said the district aims to improve safety at its schools.
“Anyone who wants to help us keep the kids safe, that’s a good thing to us,” she said.