Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff," organized an armed posse earlier this month to patrol the Arizona county's schools.
His 3,000-strong crew of volunteer men and women has for years helped the sheriff target drunk drivers, undocumented immigrants and fathers who owe child support. Sherlff Arpaio gained notoriety by sending members to Hawaii last year to investigate President Obama's birth certificate.
But this mission hits a little closer to home: protect the children. The goal is to prevent by all means necessary a repeat of December's tragic Sandy Hook shooting.
"Hopefully we are letting the bad guy know that this school is being watched," retired salesman David Bennett told Reuters on Wednesday as he peered through his car windshield outside a kindergarten in a desert community a few miles north of Phoenix.
Dressed in a uniform with a "Maricopa County Deputy Sheriff" patch, Mr. Bennett supervises volunteers patrolling 11 schools in the Cave Creek and Anthem communities.
Many residents welcome Sheriff Arpaio's drive to keep a watchful eye over 59 schools around Phoenix, but it has also made some in Latino community wary. Many illegal immigrants are fearful that these patrols could ultimately have them deported.
"For me, it's not a good thing," Diana Ramirez, an illegal immigrant, told Reuters in Spanish. "I think it's a way of detaining people with the excuse that they are going to be protecting the schools and the children."
A sheriff's spokesman said the office has received only compliments for the added protection.
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