With the opening of the state legislative session, school safety soon took center stage.
State Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, joined up with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu on the capital steps to announce their plan to send hundreds of police officers into schools at a cost of $24 million.
That’s $24 million they plan to come up with by taking money from the Clean Elections fund, taxing private party auto sales or increasing the tax on alcohol.
Babeu was right at home in front of the cameras standing side by side with a Mesa Republican much like he did in the past with ex-speaker of the house Kirk Adams, R-Mesa.
You might remember Adams and Babeu joined forces in 2011 and the duo came up with a plan was for the legislature to earmark $5 million for Babeu, who had a plan to take the war to the Mexican drug cartels in the desert outside of Casa Grande — but he needed a helicopter to do it.
The novice sheriff was spreading the word there were going to be gun battles between his deputies and the Mexican drug cartels and that he’d been ”green lighted” for assassination by Mexican drug lords.
Adams and the legislature bought off on Babeu’s bravado and swashbuckling like tales of chasing the Mexican drug cartels through the desert.
The former Chandler police patrolman’s self-serving war stories were enough to get the legislature to give $1.5 million dollars to Babeu while neglecting funding for the Arizona Department of Public Safety and other local and county law enforcement needs.
The gun battles never happened and Babeu is still alive.
So before the legislature runs off half-cocked like they did under Adams’ leadership and after getting a double-dose of Babeu’s smooth talking, they need to look at the state of public safety as a whole in Arizona and where the school safety issue fits into the total picture of creating a safer state.
For starters, when it comes to school safety, the legislature need only look at the highly successful school resource officer program started a decade ago by Ralph Tranter, the retired Tempe police chief and former executive director of the Arizona Association of Chiefs. Tranter’s program has been in place for a decade. Tranter hired back retired and still-certified officers on a school-year contract at a fraction of the cost it would take to hire a fulltime officer to work in the schools.
A simple funding partnership with the city and schools put officers in the schools, cut calls for service and helped grow a positive relationship between the police, schools, students and the community. The program has been a win-win for everyone.
For those school districts that aren’t within a city, the plan put in place by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to deploy his posse is also a win-win. Arpaio is using his state Constitutional authority to form a posse to preserve the peace in the county. While some have dissed the sheriff’s efforts, no one can argue with his success in reducing crime by deploying his posse during the holiday season at the Valley’s shopping hubs. As long as members of the posse are trained, able to serve and willing to put themselves in harm’s way, the legislature would be fools not to support the use of sheriff’s posses like Arpaio’s on a statewide basis. Posses operate with minimal costs to taxpayers.
Arizona sheriff’s posses have been around for well over a hundred years and have been a successful part of the MCSO and other sheriff’s offices long before Arpaio was first elected in 1992.
Tax money is tight and school safety is on pretty much everyone’s mind.
Tranter’s program and Arpaio’s posse are both low cost and effective.
So before the legislature follows another duo from Mesa and Pinal County, I would hope they’d look at what already works. There’s no need for the legislature to reinvent the wheel and tax us an additional $24 million dollars.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.