In the wake of this year’s wave of mass shootings and the National Rifle Association’s suggestion that schools be provided with armed guards to defend children against attackers, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is organizing heavily armed “posses” to patrol area schools that include known criminals and members of right-wing militias.
Arpaio – or “Sheriff Joe,” as he calls himself and is commonly referred to as by area residents – is infamous on the left for alleged mass abuses of civil rights in Maricopa County under his direction. The Justice Department announced it would investigate Arpaio in 2008 for civil rights violations and issued a scathing report which outlined how his office “committed a wide range of civil rights violations against Latinos, including a pattern of racial profiling.”
Now he wants to patrol schools with members of his anti-immigrant “posses.” This is Arizona, one of the most conservative states in the nation, so the idea of putting armed guards near schools fails to raise many eyebrows.
However, other details of the plan certainly have. As azfamily reports, some of those men in Sheriff Joe’s posse have criminal pasts. This has been confirmed by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, who stated that “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.”
Arpaio is not someone who should be protecting children. He has repeatedly demonstrated his lack of concern for the safety of members of his community in favor of grandstanding antics.
In 2011 in El Mirage, Arizona, officials discovered 32 cases of reported child molestations which were ignored by the Maricopa County sheriff’s office while it was providing contract police services in that town, despite suspects being known in all but six cases. Those officials allege that Arpaio ignored, in total, over 400 sex crimes during a three year period that ended in 2007. When El Mirage detective Jerry Laird reviewed 50-70 cases he picked up from Arpaio’s office, he found that the “overwhelming majority of them hadn’t been worked” and said that at some point, Arpaio’s men had apparently “put their feet on the desk, and that was that.”
All of Arpaio’s deputies carry fully automatic weapons, following the sheriff’s judgment in November that too “more and more illegal aliens are attempting to escape.” Arpaio says that all of his posse members have over 100 hours of weapons training, but there are countless good reasons to doubt his department’s professionalism. Officers under his command are routinely accused of excessive force and police brutality, such as a 2004 incident where a Maricopa County tactical team pumped a house full of tear gas, burnt it down, killed a dog and ran over a neighbor’s car with a tank – all in pursuit of a suspect wanted on a misdemeanor warrant for failing to appear in traffic court. The Phoenix New Times accused Arpaio of allowing his SWAT team to “[embark] on extreme and dangerous maneuvers that unnecessarily placed the entire neighborhood in mortal danger.”
In 2010, Pheonix Mayor called a series of debunked criminal charges filed against Arpaio’s personal enemies a “reign of terror,” saying Arpaio threatened him with child molestation charges and “bragged that he was watching my office from his office with a telescope.”
In 1999, Arpaio and his deputies made up a bomb plot to assassinate the sheriff, entrapped and falsely imprisoned a man for four years for it, and cost the county at least $1.1 million in settlement charges.
One of Arpaio’s officers was held in contempt of court for trying to steal confidential documents from defense attorney Joanne Cuccia while her back was turned in court, apparently unaware he was being videotaped. In response, Arpaio’s allies filed bogus bribery and corruption charges against the judge who locked up the officer.
Additionally, Arpaio says that he thinks Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office resources should be used to interrogate schoolchildren about their immigration status. “I compare that to drug testing. It’s controversial,” he told reporters.
The sheriff says he does not need authorization from the schools to begin patrols in the area surrounding them. As a result of the program’s murky mechanics, the policy has confused school staff and parents.
“We received a phone call this morning saying that they would be patrolling, but that’s it. I don’t know if our school will get our own officer or they’ll move between schools," said Stevenson Elementary School principal Kathy Ray.
“I was a little confused when I was in [the] parking lot with those two gentlemen in the marked car,” commented Taft elementary principal Russ Heath. “I’m not sure I’ve seen uniforms for the posse members.”
While school officials have tentatively expressed approval of deploying some manner of armed security near schools, it’s clear Arpaio and his department are completely incapable of doing so in a safe or professional manner, and it’s clear that any “posse” selected by Arpaio poses a danger to public safety and children.