FLORENCE — More than 2,600 people have expressed an interest in joining Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb’s new “citizens posse,” he told the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday.

Some of those people no doubt picture themselves riding alongside deputies, “chasing bad guys,” Supervisor Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, said.

“Are we making it clear to them that that is not what this program is about?” he asked Lamb.

“Absolutely, that’s at the very beginning,” Lamb replied. “I can’t control people’s perceptions. If I did, we wouldn’t have problems in this country. I can’t control what the media puts out, nor what people perceive about the program.

“I’ve said consistently in media interviews that some people will be disappointed in what this program is; they’re thinking it might be more. And it is a totally volunteer program. If they choose to walk out because it’s less than what they wanted, that is absolutely their right.

“And for some people, it’s going to be exactly what they wanted. In the end, I think it’s going to be a great program,” the sheriff said.

The board scheduled a non-voting work session to hear more from Lamb about the new posse. Lamb said a sheriff is empowered by law to call on citizens to assist him.

“This would be in emergency situations only, such as a flood or fire, possibly rioting and looting, those types of things. It is not designed to be an active posse,” he told the board.

The group is “really designed like a citizens academy” and is “mainly an educational tool right now,” Lamb told the board. But should an extreme situation arise in which the sheriff needs to call on citizens to help him, “I think we would all agree that some level of training is better than no level of training.”

Rios asked if posse members are called out in an emergency, what would their role be, will they be armed and what is the county’s liability for them?

“Those are great questions,” Lamb responded. “I don’t think I could articulate exactly what they would do because we don’t know; I mean each emergency is very different, (according to) what we may need from those people.”

Lamb said one example is when public buildings in other states have been “overrun” with protesters, and police didn’t have the extra resources to respond adequately.

“Heaven forbid any of those things come — that’s my prayer. But at the same time, I think it is responsible on our end and on the county’s end to prepare the best we can. I can’t give you answers to all those questions because only the circumstances would dictate what would happen,” Lamb said.

Rios said he applauded Lamb’s efforts to educate the public through a citizens academy, but he said constituents will still be asking their county supervisors, “What is this about?” and there are still a lot of questions he and his colleagues won’t be able to answer.

Supervisor Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, said he also liked the term “citizens academy” and said when the county is being preventative and proactive, “We’re ahead of the game. … I appreciate your initiative in doing this,” he told Lamb.

Lamb has said the four-hour course will include the basics of constitutional law, search and seizure, basic firearms safety, home safety and the use of force. There will also be an option to practice scenarios on the department’s new virtual simulator with one of its instructors.

He acknowledged Wednesday that four hours isn’t much instructional time, and he hopes participants will continue to study independently. He added he will stay in touch and continue to provide information to the group in a monthly newsletter.

Board Chairman Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, asked about the difference between this new group and the “citizens on patrol.” He also asked about the budget for the new group.

Lamb replied he didn’t see the new posse as a drain on the department’s budget in any way. He said he has a community relations budget, but most of its events have been canceled because of the pandemic.

This new posse is not the “patrol posse,” which requires 350 hours of training, he said. It’s also not “citizens on patrol,” which operates much like a block watch, Lamb said.

Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, asked the sheriff if he still had a reserves program. Lamb replied yes, reserves are actual sworn deputies with arresting authority, but there are probably only 10 or fewer of them currently serving.

The sheriff said among his goals for the citizens posse, “primarily … we saw an opportunity to bring the sheriff’s department and the citizens closer. I think in this day and age we’re always looking for opportunities to bridge those gaps.” He said it’s also an opportunity to draw more applicants to be detention officers, deputies and volunteers.

“The primary goal here is just to educate people in our county. The people are frustrated, they don’t know where we’re going as a country or what they can do to help.”

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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