Steven Seagal joins school guard posse: Do we need more action heroes in schools?

The idea clearly plays to the nation's enchantment with taking action to thwart evil, but it's a philosophy that many Americans worry could be dangerous in a school setting.

By , Staff writer

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    Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio watches as actor and Maricopa County posse member Steven Seagal addresses the media about a simulated school shooting in Fountain Hills, Arizona, Saturday. Sheriff Arpaio has enlisted action film star Seagal to lead a training exercise for members of his armed volunteer posse on how to respond to a school shooting.
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Forty gung-ho Americans are working out with actor-turned-Louisiana sheriff’s deputy Steven Seagal in Forest Hills, Ariz., part of a broader effort to build a national “posse” of armed volunteer school guards to protect America’s children in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn.

The decision by Mr. Seagal to join Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s “volunteer posse” in response to Newtown could be a critical moment in bolstering the NRA’s response to the shooting: to create a flexible training blueprint that school districts can utilize to tap primarily retired police or military personnel to protect schools.

But while Americans are clearly enchanted with gun-toting protagonists who take direct action to thwart evil, critics say the effort casts a cartoonish pall over a complex issue that can’t be solved by action heroics.

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While many Americans have panned the volunteer armed guards idea, 64 percent of Americans support the general idea of armed guards in schools, according to the Pew Research Center.

Mr. Arpaio has not wasted time putting his plan into action. Volunteer posse members already patrol 59 schools in the county. He’s trying to get 1,000 more volunteers involved so he can expand the program. Tapping Seagal as well as former “Hulk” actor Lou Ferrigno is one way.

"I believe we should put police officers in school, in uniform, armed," Arpaio said when activating the volunteer posse in early January. "But so far all the politicians do is talk, talk, talk, and so we're out there doing something."

In Saturday’s class, Seagal, according to a press release, was to lead 40 volunteers through four separate school shooting scenarios. Twenty-five teenagers will play the parts of students and up to three of the county’s SWAT team members will play the shooters in mock scenarios. Seagal, best-known for his role in “Above the Law,” is a 7th-dan black belt in Aikido, as well as a reserve deputy in New Orleans, the basis for a reality show called “Steven Seagal: Lawman.”

For a sheriff who has tangled with the US Department of Justice over discrimination charges stemming from his actions on illegal immigrants, one lingering question is whether the exercise is a stunt.

"He's making a mockery out of it. You're having a movie actor train people how to protect schools?" Arizona Democratic House Minority Leader Chad Campbell told the Huffington Post.

Academics have more serious concerns than whether Arpaio is searching for the spotlight.

Given that the US has about 100,000 schools, “there would be lots of opportunities for deadly incidents: Armed guards misreading student behavior … student fights where a student grabs the guard’s gun; a mass shooting scenario where students are killed in cross fire; or a nightmare scenario where a psychotic guard massacres students,” writes Steven Strauss, a policy lecturer at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. “With 150,000 armed guards, in contact with about 75 million students 200 days/year, it won't take many incidents for more than 10 students per year to be killed in armed guard-related situations.”

A major point of contention seems to be the use of volunteers instead of deputized police for patrols, with some local officials saying an amateur force threatens to turn school safety into a circus.

Maricopa County “volunteer posse” members have to apply to join the unit and have to go through the same background check as an aspiring police officer, according to the department’s website. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department “seeks only those individuals who possess the highest levels of integrity,” the department’s website reads. 

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