(LOS ANGELES) — Two of the country’s largest counties will be sending armed guards to their schools beginning Monday as students head back to class after the holiday break.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and Tempe, sent a group of armed volunteers, known as his “volunteer posse,” to patrol area schools.
He had previously used the group to help bolster security at area malls during the heavy holiday shopping season, and to scope out undocumented immigrants living in the county.
Arpaio said it wasn’t only the Newtown, Conn., school massacre on Dec. 14 that convinced him to enlist his posse to patrol area schools — a more local threat that resulted in the Dec. 20 arrest of a 16-year-old student at Red Mountain High School in Mesa for a plot to bomb the school and shoot the students and faculty also persuaded him.
“She did admit that she was going to blow up the school and shoot people in the school, and that sort of got me more interested in schools that are opening today,” Arpaio told ABC News. “The posse was finishing their assignment after Christmas, so why not utilize those resources to patrol the perimeter of schools?”
More than 500 volunteers will help to patrol the county’s 52 schools, along with members of the sheriff’s Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, team when they are not performing their regular duties, along with police dog units, Arpaio said. The volunteers will receive 100 hours of training and drive marked vehicles. In some cases, they will be armed with automatic weapons, he said.
“I believe we should put police officers in school, in uniform, armed,” Arpaio said. “But so far all the politicians do is talk, talk, talk, and so we’re out there doing something.”
Police officers in Los Angeles County are also taking action as more than a dozen law enforcement agencies increase patrols in area public schools beginning Monday.
“Every division has deployed officers to the actual schools,” said Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Andy Neiman. “We’ll have officers at every single elementary school this morning as children arrive with parents, and they’ll be there for departure at the close of schools today.”
Neiman said that officers will show up at schools throughout Los Angeles throughout the day to make sure students, faculty and parents are aware of their presence.
“It’s a reassurance in response to what occurred in Newtown. This is one thing that the leadership here in Los Angeles got together, and Chief Charlie Beck decided he wanted to reassure our community that our kids and schools are safe. We’re putting police officers there so they can be seen,” Neiman said.
The beefed-up presence will continue for an “indefinite” amount of time, he said. Officers will also patrol any private schools that request extra security, according to ABC News station KABC.
“We just want to monitor them a little bit closer,” said Sgt. Michael Arriaga, spokesman for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. “We’re going to have an increased presence and instruct our personnel that if nothing serious is pending, then kind of as a routine they should make their presence known.”
Kim Amer, a parent, told KABC, “I think more security will make people feel better. Right now, when these types of things are going on, you can’t have too much security.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio