Sheriff Mark Lamb

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb said the citizens posse could be called to assist in a natural disaster or if a demonstration turns violent.

FLORENCE — Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb is forming a new “citizens posse” that he might eventually call on to help in a major emergency.

The primary goals of the group are to educate citizens about police work, firearms safety, the law and protecting themselves and their homes in a four-hour course, Lamb said. But in extreme events, they may also be called upon to help enforce the law.

“This is more of an educational tool, much like a citizens academy,” Lamb told PinalCentral. “But also, (they’re a resource) should we need them. And hopefully, heaven forbid, we ever need anybody.

“I would hope that we (sworn officers) can always do the job. But as a sheriff, I want to make sure that I can protect my community; in the end that’s the most important thing.”

The group would work alongside and take direction from deputies. Lamb said he didn’t foresee any situation in which the group would be operating independently. Lamb said his job is to ensure safety, and he’s empowered by law to command the aid of county inhabitants to achieve his mission.

The citizens posse could be called upon to assist in a natural disaster, a demonstration that turns violent, “a lot of different things,” the sheriff said. “I think if we’d talked at the beginning of 2020, we wouldn’t have known half of what was going to happen this year.”

Posse members won’t be issued weapons. They will learn firearms safety and applicable laws, but “I’m not asking them to carry a gun on a daily basis for or on behalf of me,” Lamb said.

He said the posse isn’t “deputizing” citizens, which means, “I give them my authority to do this job.” Neither is it a militia, which is a military force raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency, Lamb said.

A posse is a body of men and women, typically armed, summoned by a sheriff to enforce the law, “so there is a difference.” The posse “is there to aid the sheriff. … There are limitations on what they can and can’t do. Those are some of the things we’ll explain to them in the class.”

Lamb said this new group will be separate from the “patrol posse” of approximately 50 members that already assists deputies each day.

“We give them a certain level of responsibility, and they stay within that, and they do such a great job at it,” he said.

So far, he isn’t limiting the ranks of the citizens posse.

“I would love to educate as many citizens as want to be educated,” Lamb said, adding he had already received more than 400 emails expressing interest by Friday morning, and he expected perhaps 200 more by the end of the day. Citizens outside the county are also welcome to inquire, but preference will go to Pinal residents.

Posse candidates will be checked for active warrants, but someone who’s been in trouble with the law in the past won’t be excluded. Convicted felons, however, won’t receive the ID card that identifies them as posse members.

Lamb said a few different things gave him the idea for a citizens’ posse. First, he said, there’s a lot of talk currently about how law enforcement can improve relationships with communities. People are also feeling frustrated and unsure about what they can do to help. Then there’s the unrest happening in major cities, he said.

Lamb said critics of the idea will be welcome to sit in on a class. “If they decide to be a critic after that, at least they’ve done their homework.”

More information is available online at https://bit.ly/337koYh.

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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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