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"Everything I do is a publicity stunt."
Leave it to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to exploit a tragedy in order to get his pasty mug all over the national news. Because that's what it's really about, isn't it? If he truly cared about stopping bad guys, Arpaio would resign, since he's the only county sheriff in Arizona whose violent crime rate has increased—up 58 percent since 2002 while the rest of the state averages a 12 percent decline.

Rather than investigate hundreds of sex crimes, for instance, some committed on children as young as two, Arpaio has his deputies chasing Mexican burger flippers, often with TV news cameras in tow. Other times he's busy kissing the asses of a handful of bigoted tea party gooberheads, who asked him to investigate President Obama's birth certificate. Because, of course, that's something all county sheriffs are charged with prosecuting. Or he might be accepting an award from, say, a white supremacist group. And don't forget, he's always in court fighting lawsuits, which have cost the taxpayers of Maricopa County nearly $60 million during his 20-year reign.

Arpaio's a busy guy, on TV and in the newspapers every day, so he gets a pass on the rising crime rate thing. Now he's got another opportunity—for TV time, that is.

After the NRA defiantly announced, in the shadows of the Sandy Hook massacre, that the only way to stop more mass murders is to arm school personnel, two Arizona "solutions" immediately hit the front pages. Attorney General Tom Horne made the mistake of upstaging Arpaio—I bet he got a call. A few days after the NRA "press conference," Horne announced his program to arm school principals. He was pretty proud of his solution, calling it "an original Tom Horne idea," because his proposal would arm administrators, not teachers. Horne thinks arming teachers might cause too much confusion. Apparently, principals are better shots. I didn't know firearms training was taught at principal school.  

Not to be out-crazied, and certainly not to surrender the media spotlight, the day after Horne's announcement Sheriff Arpaio stepped before the cameras and blustered (he knows no other way) that he'll send his "posse" to schools to protect our children. Since then, he's been all over the local news peddling his idea, as well as appearing on national programs like Piers Morgan. What other county sheriff regularly gets national TV time? What other county sheriff can you even name?

Arpaio's volunteer posse is nothing new, it's been around a long time. The program began years ago during the busy holiday shopping season, as a way to supplement the minimum-wage security guards who patrol shopping mall parking lots in golf carts. In this case, the malls welcomed the posse members, who drive cop-like cars and wear cop-like uniforms, because they help keep the malls' security costs down during the peak holiday period.

Now that Arpaio's posse program has started at nearly 60 schools, on the other hand, everyone is still a little confused about what's going on. Because, as usual, Arpaio didn't ask the schools if they wanted extra security, nor did he coordinate the program with other agencies like, oh, the local police. He just barreled ahead like a flaccid old bull in a china shop, his usual MO. Even the schools that welcomed the extra security don't know WTF is going on.

Stevenson and Taft Elementary staff were supportive of the new program, but no one had any information as to where these people would be or even who they were.
Here's the deal: Arpaio has about 3,000 volunteer posse members, of which maybe 500 are armed. However, Arpaio's posse members are not police, they've received no certified training, and they have no authority. If a posse dude stops you, you are under no obligation to obey him or her. Some are just geezers with guns, old farts who want to play cop. I suspect many are good-hearted citizens who want to help. I also suspect a number of them are good old boys who want to wear a badge and throw around their misguided sense of authority.

About their authority, Arpaio told Channel 12 News that "they have full authority once I mobilize them," but that's bullshit, just another example of the Sheriff's oversized ego. He maintains that the only difference between his deputies and posse members is that the latter are not paid. Wrong! The "full authority" that he bestows upon them is nothing more than you or I have to make a citizens arrest, or to call the cops if we see a crime being committed. Steven Lemons at New Times contacted Lyle Mann, who's Director of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, to ask him about the status of Arpaio's posse members:

"They are not law enforcement officers," Mann told me of the posse members when I called, asking for his comment...

Other than a citizens arrest, does a posse member have the authority to arrest someone? "No, they do not," said Mann, "other than the authority that resides in any citizen, no." New Times

What could go wrong?
Human rights groups have at least two problems with Arpaio's latest stunt. First, it's no secret that the Sheriff has a strained relationship with people of the brownish hue, and no doubt some of the old white guys who volunteer for the posse share his xenophobia. Given that gun assaults on schools are terrible but very, very rare, posse members are going to have a lot of time on their hands. What will they be doing? Who will they be stopping? Whose IDs will they be checking? Some Hispanic communities who already have a troubled relationship with Arpaio simply don't want his volunteer cops in town:
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.... Distrust of Arpaio in Guadalupe runs deep after the sheriff's deputies poured into the town during one of his first trademark immigration sweeps in April 2008. HuffPo

Then there's this: Arpaio's trained deputies often fuck up. A lot. They arrest the wrong people, conduct unlawful surveillance, set up illegal campaign operations, and torture and sometimes kill people in their custody. It is, in part, the actions of Arpaio's supposedly trained guards and deputies that have led to the countless lawsuits against the Sheriff's Office. If these people are so unreliable, what can we expect from an all-volunteer posse of aging George Zimmermans?

The worst case scenario is someone gets shot—a janitor carrying a suspicious looking pipe wrench. But here's something citizens of Maricopa County can bet on: more lawsuits for illegal arrests, unlawful detentions, and other macho skirmishes.

"You could say everything I do is a publicity stunt." — Sheriff Joe Arpaio


Originally posted to Maggie's Farm on Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 08:20 PM PST.

Also republished by Phoenix Kossacks and Baja Arizona Kossacks.

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