New Times Rolls With Joe Arpaio's School-Patrol Posse; Nobody Dies
"You play golf?" we ask 69-year-old John van Steinburg, as we roll past the entrance to Anthem's country club, riding in a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office patrol car.
He doesn't, but since Sheriff Joe Arpaio's PR staff let us hop in the car with Steinburg -- one of Arpaio's posse members now on armed school-patrol -- we wanted to find out what kind of person wants to spend all day driving laps around an elementary school with a gun.
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As we sit at an intersection, a silver-haired fellow has the window down as his classic SS Camaro rumbles by.
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"That could be you," I tell him, as we continue around Diamond Canyon elementary school.
Steinburg still wasn't impressed. The one-time Detroit cop explains that he'd rather be in Arpaio's posse.
In this case, that involves driving about 15 mph around Diamond Canyon elementary school, and through all the dead-silent residential streets that provide access to the school's property. That's his definition of a "hobby," he explains.
Eventually, I actually believe him. It kind of sounds like a boys club -- these guys get to be comrades in uniform, and play cop with each other as a hobby. He's been on the posse for a few months short of four years, and while he's assigned to a detective, he's gotten to be a little closer to some of the actual cop work.
Although Steinburg wasn't a career cop -- he changed careers a few times after his stint in Detroit -- I was definitely in one of the less-questionable posse patrols in this system.
See, in Arpaio's publicity-stunt response to the Newtown, Connecticut massacre, not every posse member is a former cop. And only a fraction of these school-patrolling posse members are assigned to schools in the neo-Stepford Wives community of Anthem. In total, 58 other schools in unincorporated parts of the county will be patrolled by members of Arpaio's posse.
The whole thing still seems strange. Steinburg's wearing the beige uniform, which isn't easy to differentiate from an actual MCSO deputy's -- if there are any differences. The shoulder patch says "deputy sheriff," and his car was an actual MCSO patrol car.
Combine that with his .40-caliber Smith & Wesson M&P, and we find it hard to believe that anyone would be able to tell that Steinburg's not a certified police officer.
Although Steinburg seemed pretty innocuous, we imagined someone without law-enforcement experience, or with different motives for being in the posse, being armed and looking just like a deputy, patrolling a school in Guadalupe.
Of course, although Arpaio claimed yesterday that the "only difference" between a sworn deputy and a posse member is that the posse members aren't paid, there's not too much Steinburg can do aside from being a set of eyes -- and looking like a deputy.
He explained that he'd have to call dispatch or a deputy if he saw something that requires a police response. As illustrated in the old Daily Show clip clowning the posse, they can't run the lights and sirens, either.
So, really, all we can tell you is that nobody died or was injured during this trip, and for once, a New Times reporter was inside an MCSO vehicle, without the Fourth Avenue Jail being the destination. (See: NEW TIMES FOUNDERS MIKE LACEY AND JIM LARKIN RELEASED FROM SHERIFF'S CUSTODY, VOW TO FIGHT ON)
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