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Sheriff Paul Penzone voices concerns about Ducey’s school safety plan

(AP Photo/Matt York)
LISTEN: Sheriff Paul Penzone

PHOENIX — Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said Monday that he was supportive of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to address school safety, but was concerned about the speed at which it was being implemented and the available funding to take it off the ground.

“We’re reactive on impulse because of the most recent circumstance and as time progresses, we get further away from it,” Penzone told KTAR News’ Mac and Gaydos. 

“Instead of trying to solve this overnight, let’s say in the next year, in the next two years, in the next three years, in the next five years, what can we do to move the meter in the right direction? Because it didn’t happen yesterday, it’s been going on for years.

“I want to see an immediate solution, but the reality is that’s not going to happen so let’s get the correct solution by being pragmatic,” the sheriff added.

Ducey introduced the plan, titled “Safe Arizona Schools Plan,” on Monday in response to the Majory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which a 19-year-old former student killed 17 people — mostly students — and injured 14 more with an assault-style rifle.

The plan aimed to make schools and communities safer by increasing mental and behavioral health resources, restricting access to firearms and tightening background checks.

Penzone said he, along with a group of law enforcement officials from across the state, met with the Arizona governor for about an hour to have a conversation about how the issue of school safety could be addressed from their standpoint.

While the sheriff said he was supportive of Ducey’s plan, he also worried about how the state would be able to fund it.

“I just think that this problem, no different than we’ve talked about opioids, is so complex that it’s going to require an investment of time and an investment of resources and resources are the key,” Penzone said.

“It is a very complex issue with all different factors and to resolve it, or to solve it, is going to take a lot of time, effort and money.”

The sheriff said from his point of view, he needs to ensure that his officers are trained not only as a resource but know how to respond to best handle situations like active shooters.

“I do look from my position how can I as sheriff, as the Maricopa County sheriff, what can we do in those areas that we’re responsible for and what funding do we have and do we need?” he said.

But Penzone said there is one major roadblock that is currently standing in his way: The size of his department.

There are currently 3,500 employees working in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office — 2,000 detention, 750 sworn, 750 civilian — which was the same number of employees in 2006, he said.

“We have the same size office that we did in 2006, yet the population of the county has grown by 15 percent,” he said.

“So I keep going back to the same place…everything requires funding. If we don’t have the dollars, than all of this conversation is for not because we’re going to have to invest in addressing the issue in where the threat comes from and addressing the issue in how we engage and stop the threat.”

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