An Arizona sheriff is arming his deputies with AR-15-style assault rifles to give them “enough firepower to fight back” against criminals who he says are carrying increasingly dangerous weapons.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio made the announcement on Thursday, the same day one of his employees, 27-year-old Jorge Vargas, was gunned down as he walked into his driveway to head to work.
"We live in a violent society, even here in Maricopa County, and across our nation, and the least we can do is to arm our deputies…,” Arpaio said, according to Fox 10 News. "My deputies will carry guns 24 hours a day, even off duty. If they see any incident occurring, they will take action anywhere in this valley."
Arpaio purchased the 400 Smith & Wesson rifles with money seized by authorities during arrests.
On Friday, police released a sketch of a suspect wanted in Vargas' murder, ABC 15 reports.
Arpaio said Vargas was an eight-year veteran who worked for the Sheriff's Office Custody Support Bureau in the jail's food factory, but he often came into contact with inmates.
He wouldn't speculate about whether Vargas' killing may have been related to his work, but said his office was assisting Phoenix police in the investigation, including gathering intelligence from the jails.
"I won't call it an assassination or an execution," Arpaio said. "Right now, I'll call it a murder."
"Watch out," he added. "We're ready for battle and we're going to take whatever action we need."
Vargas was wearing his uniform, which identified him as a Sheriff's Office employee, at the time of the attack and was in his driveway working on his car before coming to work when he was shot.
A man was seen running from the scene after neighbors heard shots and found the critically wounded officer in his driveway. Vargas later died at an area hospital, Sgt. Trent Crump told the Associated Press
The Associated Press contributed to this report.