(TheBlaze/AP) — The self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff” in America joined forces this weekend with action movie star Steven Seagal to train volunteer posse members to defend Phoenix-area schools against gunmen.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced the controversial plan in the wake of the December Newtown, Conn., school shooting that left 27 people dead, including the gunman and 20 first-graders.
The exercise Saturday was held at a closed school site in suburban Fountain Hills outside Phoenix where sheriff’s SWAT members acted as shooters and 25 teenagers played the part of students during mock scenarios involving up to three gunmen. According to 3TV, the group practiced with several different types of guns, all firing blanks.
Seagal, best known for his roles in movies such as “Above the Law” and “Under Siege,” will lead training on hand-to-hand defense tactics and other techniques drawing from his expertise in martial arts, according to a sheriff’s office news release.
When faced with criticism in January about the school posse plan, Arpaio snapped back: “Why would people complain about my posse being in front of schools to act as prevention?”
He boldly announced the plan on the grounds of an elementary school, saying at the time he wanted the patrols publicized.
“I want everyone to know about it for the deterrence effect,” Arpaio said, adding that no taxpayer money would be spent on the patrols and volunteers would be supervised over the radio or telephone by actual deputies.
But Arizona Democratic House Minority Leader Chad Campbell called the plan to use Seagal as an instructor “ludicrous.”
“Steve Seagal is an actor. That’s it. Why don’t we also have Clint Eastwood and Chuck Norris and Bruce Willis come out and train them too while we’re at it,” Campbell said with condescension.
Campbell has been a vocal critic of Arpaio’s school posse protection plan, complaining that using untrained, armed civilians to protect students is a bad idea and likely will only make the facilities more dangerous.
“He’s making a mockery out of it. You’re having a movie actor train people how to protect schools?” Campbell said.
Current posse members already are used to bolster the sheriff’s office force by providing police protection at malls during the holidays, directing traffic and transporting people to jail. But the sheriff announced this week that he needs more members to continue the work, calling for 1,000 additional citizens to step up and volunteer.
Joselyn Wells, a mother of three children at a school in suburban Phoenix, where Arpaio’s posse has begun patrolling, said she was excited to hear about the initiative.
“A lot of people sit around and watch these things happen, watch key signs and no one wants to do anything about it,” she said when Arpaio announced the plan. “Nobody wants conflict, nobody wants to be out in the limelight. And he doesn’t care. He wants to do the right thing.”
Andrew Sanchez, however, a town council member in Guadalupe, said he wants nothing to do with posse members patrolling schools in his community, which voluntarily spends about $1.2 million annually for Maricopa County sheriff’s patrols.
“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 has said.
The volunteers, dressed in uniforms and driving patrol vehicles, some authorized to carry guns after training, won’t go onto school grounds unless they spot danger, but will instead patrol around the facilities, Arpaio said.
Seagal is already a volunteer posse member in Maricopa County, and has been deputized with sheriff’s offices in New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana, where a film crew followed the actor on ride-alongs with Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies for the reality TV show “Steven Seagal: Lawman.”
Arpaio says other notable people also have joined his more than 3,000-strong volunteer armed posse, including “The Incredible Hulk” star Lou Ferrigno and actor Peter Lupus of TV’s “Mission: Impossible.”
“I want everyone to know that we’re going to be around the schools,” Arpaio told the media, lightly banging his hand on the podium for emphasis. “If anyone does something, we’re going in to save our kids.”
3TV has more on the story, including video of the training: