Arpaio's Call To Arms Could Add To Chaos Of Mass Shootings

Published: Thursday, December 10, 2015 - 11:19am
Updated: Friday, December 11, 2015 - 3:49pm

(Photo by Paul Atkinson - KJZZ)
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a long history of recruiting private citizens to support his department’s activities. He created a Volunteer Posse program at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s department in 1993 and it’s grown over the years to more than 50 units. Posse members undergo training and are usually asked to serve in supporting roles for activities like search and rescue. But in light of recent mass shooting events, Arpaio is now asking members of the public to go a step further.

“We have about 250,000 citizens in Arizona that carry concealed weapons that we know of and I decided to ask for their help,” Arpaio said.

In several recent statements Arpaio has encouraged armed members of the public to use deadly force if they are in the presence of an active shooter.

“That person could take action, even take down that shooter and save many, many lives, before the cops show up.”

Flight, Not Fight

However, this call to arms goes against the advice of many other law enforcement agencies. In the event of an active shooter, Kurt Remus of the Phoenix FBI actually advocates the exact opposite response.

"The first option certainly is running," Remus said. "Help others escape if possible and call 911 when you are safe.”

Fighting back, he says, should actually be a last resort. Remus is no stranger to active shooter scenarios. He was a first responder to the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999, and said additional shooters would only add to the chaos when law enforcement arrives on the scene.

“In a situation like that, you don’t know who the shooters are," Remus said, recalling Columbine. "It was described as a student. Well, a school is full of students, so therefore you don’t know who the shooters are. So the persons who are evacuating need to have their hands visibly clear so the law enforcement who is arriving can see if you are a threat or not.”

But Arpaio argues it’s that time before law enforcement arrives when armed citizens could be the most effective, despite their chances of being mistaken for the shooter.

“That’s just a risk that you have to take," Arpaio said. "You've got to be proactive and willing to take some chances to save lives.”

Fighting Gun Violence With Gun Violence

Michael Scott is a Professor at Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice who studies policing. 

“The truth of the matter is that each person who finds themselves in a situation like this, is going to rely on instinct," Scott said. "They’re going to take the action that they perceive is most likely to keep them safe, to keep others safe, to protect themselves – and that’s going to vary from person to person.”

He said mass shootings have changed the way police and society think about how we defend ourselves from violence-- “and especially with high powered weapons and magazines with lots of ammunition, a lot of people can die in a short period of time.”

But while the natural inclination might be to take matters into one’s own hands, Scott said doing so could have unintended consequences. “People may imagine that society would inherently be safer if everybody was armed, but I don’t think we fully appreciate what kind of society that really would be,” he said.

The very reason we entrust police officers with the use of deadly force, he said, is so that hopefully, we don’t have to use it ourselves.