Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Sheriff Projects $3.9 Million Overtime Deficit

Sheriff blames understaffing. Finance Committee does not accept his report.

By - Jun 30th, 2021 01:41 pm

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia (GFDL) or (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

In April, the Milwaukee County Board passed an ordinance that requires county departments projecting a budget deficit or overtime budget deficit to come before the board with a report and a plan to remediate it.

The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), which regularly posts a deficit in overtime spending, has gone before the board’s finance committee two months in a row projecting an overtime deficit of nearly $4 million.

The MCSO is not the only county agency or department to come before the board with a report, The Milwaukee County Zoo is also projecting a deficit for 2020, but only the sheriff’s office has had its report and plan for remediation refused by the committee.

The legislation creating the new reporting requirement was sponsored by Supervisors Ryan Clancy and Shawn Rolland. Clancy led a charge to reduce the Sheriff’s overtime funding in 2021 during the board’s budget deliberations last year, though he failed to secure support for his proposals.

The sheriff’s department regularly produces overtime budget deficits; $36.3 million since 2014. Former Sheriff David Clarke made no attempt to reign in overtime spending, or work with the administration of County Executive Chris Abele. His successors, Sheriff Richard Schmidt and Earnell Lucas have made offsets within the sheriff’s office budget to cover the cost of overtime.

When Clancy failed to cut the MCSO overtime budget in 2020, he pursued the overtime accountability legislation which created a year-round mechanism for digging into the agency’s books.

Clancy is currently suing Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee, and their law enforcement agencies, for his arrest by officers of the MCSO and the Milwaukee Police Department on May 31st, 2020. Clancy was attending protests over the killing of George Floyd as an ACLU legal observer when he was arrested for a curfew violation. Clancey is suing for unlawful seizure of his phone, excessive force, failure to intervene and a “Monell” doctrine claim for failing to train officers on the limits of the emergency curfew, as Urban Milwaukee reported.

The board’s finance committee laid over the MCSO’s first report in May, which showed a projected $3.9 million overtime deficit in 2021, and requested more information.

During the June meeting of the finance committee, the MCSO returned with a revised report. Lucas and his Chief of Staff Ted Chisholm said the overtime deficit is the result of understaffing pushing the agency to use overtime to perform duties mandated by state statute.

“The decision of whether or not to authorize overtime is made every day on every shift, frankly by every supervisor at the rank of sergeant or above, and they are, in many cases, making the difficult decision not to staff positions on certain shifts,” Chisholm said.

The MCSO is budgeted for 718 positions, but only has 629 of them filled, according to the sheriff’s office. So while the MCSO is posting a deficit in overtime, it is projecting a $1.9 million surplus in the budget for salaries in 2021.

The understaffing in the MCSO is nothing new. The sheriff and the jail commander have said the agency has trouble retaining officers because other counties pay better. In 2018, the MCSO reported hiring 103 corrections officers and losing 110. The forced overtime, according to the MCSO report, is produced by the personnel shortage and hurts morale and increases the difficulty of retaining staff.

The MCSO report said the “most efficacious plan” to limit overtime expenditures would be a focus on retention of deputies and corrections officers. It said, “a critical component of this strategy will involve increasing compensation to a level competitive with similar positions in surrounding jurisdictions.”

Clancy, however, did not accept the MCSO’s position that overtime expenses were necessary. He said that the sheriff’s office engages in “overbroad policing,” using the response to protests during summer 2020 as an example. He said the sheriff’s office response to protests was “not stopping violence, that is perpetuating violence on those protestors.”

“Your department keeps taking on additional non-mandated things to do, you’re creating work for yourself where there does not need to be any,” he said.

Clancy said it was “insulting” that the MCSO’s plan to remediate overtime expenses was to hire more personnel.

Rolland, who co-sponsored the overtime review ordinance with Clancy, noted that the majority of overtime for the MCSO is occurring in the jail. “That’s obviously a big bucket that this committee and the board could and should think about.” Rolland suggested the department look for other areas, like the courthouse, where overtime could potentially be reduced.

The committee voted again to table the report from the MCSO on a 4 to 3 vote, with Supervisors Rolland, Willie Johnson, Jr. and Jason Haas voting against tabling it, and Supervisors Clancy, Sequanna Taylor, Joe Czarnezki and Liz Sumner voting in favor.

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