– Erica Ritz
(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.
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.
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.
“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.”