They operate special weapons, negotiate hostage situations and use explosives. They shoot with precision and are one of the most highly-trained units at the sheriff’s office.
They are the SWAT team.
Starting Friday, they’ll be patrolling Valley shopping malls.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is beefing up its holiday patrol, adding 30 SWAT members to the deputies and volunteer posse members already out around the holiday season. The SWAT team will patrol 11 Valley malls including Scottsdale Fashion Square, Chandler Fashion Center and Arizona Mills.
"I send them out on certain specialty operations that I feel are necessary," Sheriff Joe Arpaio said.
"I feel the protection of the people at the malls is necessary," he said.
Mall officials declined comment or could not be reached for comment.
The SWAT team will still be available to mobilize for other situations requiring them and their response time will not be any longer, Arpaio said. The team has been on patrol for months and will add the shopping malls into its normal routes.
Ronell Bolden sat on a bench outside Mesa’s Fiesta Mall on Wednesday. He, like several others questioned about Arpaio’s mall plans, believed the extra SWAT patrol was good, but perhaps a bit overboard for a quiet mall such as Fiesta.
"It’s already a good place," Bolden of Mesa said. "Right here, it’s pretty cool."
He visits the mall frequently and said he’s never seen trouble there.
Another shopper, Tim Yohe of Mesa, agreed.
"If something does happen, then, yeah (it’s good)," Yohe said. "But I don’t see anything happening."
The sheriff ’s office has been patrolling malls starting the day after Thanksgiving and continuing through Christmas since 1993 and uses canine units, mounted posse, deputies on motorcycles and bicycles, and posse members on foot to deter and prevent crime.
"If we have a SWAT situation at the mall like in Washington, naturally we’ll be mobilized quickly," Arpaio said.
In Tacoma, Wash., a 20-year-old man was charged with eight counts of first degree assault, four counts of kidnapping and two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm after he used a pair of assault rifles to shoot six people Nov. 20 inside a mall and held four people hostage for about four hours.
Two shoppers Wednesday at the Fiesta Mall felt Arpaio’s move to add SWAT members was reactionary.
"He goes to extremes," said Pam Throckmorton of Chandler.
"That would make me uncomfortable," said Renee Butcher, also of Chandler. "I wouldn’t come here if they had SWAT teams here. . . . That’s an isolated incident (in Washington). Doesn’t he have any other place to put them?"
Throckmorton added, "Thanks for warning us."