America Discovers Sheriff Clarke
Clarke appears on Piers Morgan with Tom Barrett and gets beat up by both Morgan and the mayor.
Sheriff David Clarke and Mayor Tom Barrett debated the issue of guns and gun control on Piers Morgan’s CNN show last night, but the most fascinating moments involved the interchanges between Clarke and Morgan, who makes no pretense of objectivity and made clear his distaste for Clarke’s recent radio ad suggesting citizens in Milwaukee arm themselves.
Morgan blasted Clarke for what he called a “racy, Hollywood-style radio ad” and charged that Clarke was trying to create “a return to the Wild West” days in America.
Clarke said he objected to Morgan’s insinuation that the sheriff was using a “Hollywood voice” in the ads and said “this is my normal voice.”
Barrett blasted Clarke as “irresponsible” for using his public office to suggest that calling 911 won’t help you. Barrett also said people should realize that the sheriff has nothing to do with 911 calls, because they are handled by the Milwaukee Police Department and suburban police departments.
Clarke responded by calling the sheriff’s department the top law enforcement agency in Milwaukee County. “We are a full-fledged law enforcement agency. We respond to anything,” Clarke contended.
On Barrett’s next chance up to bat, he noted that Clarke said he can respond to any calls, but “doesn’t tell you” that he doesn’t in fact respond to 911 calls.
Clarke’s best moments were two. He noted that Barrett came pretty close to getting killed when he was attacked at State Fair Park and a gun could have helped him in that situation. (Barrett never responded directly to this.) He also gave a couple examples of cases of “exigent circumstances” where an incident happened so quickly that police could not respond in time, suggesting these victims would have been helped if they had a gun.
But he was playing defense for most of the segment, with both Barrett and Morgan going after the sheriff. Morgan asked Clarke how many people in Milwaukee had defended themselves at home with a gun, and Clarke responded, “I don’t have those statistics.” Morgan asked for a ball-park figure, and when Clarke said “I don’t think we need to go there,” Morgan snapped, “You haven’t got a clue.”
Barrett noted that 40 percent of guns are sold by private, unregulated gun sellers and asked if Clarke would support controls over this, and background checks to make sure guns don’t go to people with a criminal record, a charge of domestic violence, or a history of mental illness. Clarke wouldn’t answer.
Morgan then took up the theme, demanding to know if Clarke would support background checks. Clarke responded but would not answer the question, and Morgan, after blasting the sheriff for refusing to answer his question, ended the interview.
The entire episode had a slightly surreal air, with Morgan, a British emigre with a polished accent, refereeing a discussion between two Milwaukee officials discussing intricacies of our local law enforcement structure that may have been of limited interest to a national audience.
Adding to the strangeness was that Sheriff, as Barrett pointed out, has nothing to do with 911 calls and does little to combat violent crime in homes or neighborhoods. As I’ve previously reported, the most recent two years of statistics compiled by the state Office of Justice Assistance show that Clarke and his sheriff’s department handled just 57 violent and property crimes, or less than one-fifth of one percent of all the incidents. The Milwaukee Police handled 75 percent of the incidents and the rest were handled by suburban police.
As Barrett noted, the sheriff’s officers don’t respond to 911 calls but staff the Milwaukee County Jail and County Correctional Facility South (formerly House of Correction), handle the courthouse’s system of bailiffs, and patrol the freeways. But as my story noted, there is considerable evidence that the Sheriff’s department has too big a budget to handle these functions. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has offered statistics showing that Milwaukee County has 30 percent more law enforcement employees than comparable counties.
Indeed, Clarke’s real debate isn’t with Barrett but with Abele, who has reduced Clarke’s budget. As the Sheriff noted, his department has lost 42 officer due to budget cuts. Clarke’s radio ad, whatever its message about guns, is the latest of his many attempts to scare the citizenry into concluding that we are unsafe because his budget was cut. Clarke versus Barrett is really a sideshow: the sheriff is really aiming his fire at Abele.
Clarke’s scary ad, by the way, wouldn’t have as much resonance but for a “Watchdog” story by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which purported to prove response time to crimes had badly declined under Flynn. But the increase in response time was minuscule and mainly showed that Chief Ed Flynn’s strategy of prioritizing the most serious crimes was working. Perhaps that’s why citizen complaints about the department and about response time have declined under Flynn.
A recent column by Alex Runner, a Sherman Park resident and former aide to Common Council President Willie Hines, offers an interesting take on his positive experience dealing with the police response to 911 calls. He also chastises Clarke for saying the issue of crime is “no longer a spectator sport – I need you in the game.”
“Come again?” Runner asks. “Spectator sport? Game? Public safety is not a game, Sheriff.”
As to the issue of whether furloughs for Milwaukee Police officers will have any impact on response time to 911 calls, which Clarke claims to be the case, here’s what the folks who actually run the Milwaukee Police Department say:
“We have 1,403 sworn police officers who will be taking furlough days in 2013 and the total number of days taken will be 4,209,” says Detective Inspector William Jessup. “The furlough days are chosen or assigned to our officers based on the staffing needs of their respective work locations and are scheduled far in advance. Consequently, furlough days do not impact our crime reduction efforts.”
Adds Chief Flynn: “What this means, in a nutshell, is that since people will have to take unpaid days off, fewer officers will be permitted to use their paid leave, so the normal street strength will be maintained. Furloughs will have NO impact on the number of officers actually working first-responder duties on the street.”
-While Clarke declined to respond to whether he would support background checks to stop bad guys from getting guns, he used to support some gun control measures. Back in 2003 he joined E. Michael McCann, then the Milwaukee County DA, and other law enforcement officials to oppose repealing the ban on concealed carry of guns. Years later, Clarke changed his position.
-Lost amid all this controversy was a new proposal to reduce the power of the Milwaukee Police & Fire Commission and increase the power of the Common Council when it comes to hiring the police chief. This would change a state law on the books since 1885.
-Alex Runner was also in the news recently for championing the raising of chickens in an urban setting. His is among 14 households in the city that have begun raising chickens since the city okayed this.
People: Alex Runner, Chris Abele, David Clarke, Michael McCann, Tom Barrett, William Jessup
Government: Milwaukee County Sheriff, Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission, Milwaukee Police Department
Neighborhood(s): Sherman Park