In Arizona, controversial sheriff's Arpaio posse watches over schools

Sheriff  Arpaio

Arpaio's drive to keep a watchful eye over 59 schools in unincorporated areas around Phoenix is welcomed by many residents. But it has also raised suspicion among some in the Latino community - almost a third of the county's population who fear it could be used to unfairly target Hispanics.

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Dressed in a uniform with a "Maricopa County Deputy Sheriff" patch, posse member Bennett has the rank of captain and supervises volunteers patrolling 11 schools in the Cave Creek and Anthem communities a few miles north of downtown Phoenix.

"I know that their presence in a squad car could deter someone ... coming to do harm. In that respect, I think having a sheriff's car in the parking lot could be very helpful as a deterrent and I appreciate that," said Cave Creek Unified School District 93 superintendent Debbi Burdick.

"They are not actually physically in schools ... They are only patrolling outside of the schools in their vehicles, and that's fine," she adds. Fewer than one in 12 students in Cave Creek area schools are Hispanic.

Bennett, who has volunteered for the posse for a decade, is among at least 500 posse members who have been trained and qualified in the same weapons used by salaried deputies, including handguns, shotguns and semi-automatic AR-15 rifles.

The volunteers, who undergo background checks before being admitted, stay off school property and in their vehicles. They are instructed to call deputies if they see something suspicious, and only use their weapons if there is an immediate threat to life.

Arpaio himself has said the role of the posse patrols is to act as "additional eyes and ears," and that while he supports the idea of armed law enforcement officers in schools, he does not support the idea of arming teachers, as some have suggested.

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