By Arielle Vaccaro
In critical condition: that’s how Milwaukee County Sheriff, David Clarke, describes the city’s current state.
Nearing the end of his fourth campaign, the incumbent sheriff met with the Milwaukee Courier and expressed his concerns for the county he serves, as well as his plans to remedy the issues that ail it.
The Milwaukee native has worked in law enforcement and for the public for the past 37 years.
He attributes his interest to become involved in law and order to a desire to “be part of giving back to this community,” says Sheriff Clarke.
“My father kind of encouraged me to look into it,” said Clarke.
The sheriff recalls — from his first years as a patrol officer — a Milwaukee that was safer, touted a strong middle class, and was rooted in an industrial-based economy.
Today, however, Clarke sees a far different environment as he looks around the city.
The 53206 zip code has been receiving national attention for its shocking number of residents who maintain criminal records.
Gun violence against children is becoming a more common occurrence.
Shootings are up twenty percent from last year at this time.
Milwaukee currently maintains a crime rate that nearly doubles the national average.
“Its becoming part of the urban landscape, and I think that’s horrible,” said the Sheriff.
He attributes this plaguing issue to a few causes: poverty, an ineffective school system, and a lack of consistent police presence in neighborhoods.
According to Clarke, the job market isn’t what it used to be.
In years past, those with only a high school education were able to sustain their families. At present, he finds that’s not the case.
Although there are an abundance of transition jobs, there are not enough options for lucrative work.
According to Clarke, the city maintains an African American unemployment rate that doubles the United States average.
What Clarke refers to as Milwaukee’s public, “broken schools” attribute to what has become a disturbing prevalence of crime.
“We’re not giving these kids a chance with this failed k-12 system,” Clarke said.
He noted that many children cannot read or write at their grade level.
Aside from that, he finds that high school graduates are becoming more and more in need of remedial reading, writing, and math education in college.
According to the sheriff, criminals are not being deterred from crime, nor are residents willing to report crime to the police due to heavily delayed response times and a lack of consistent police presence in neighborhoods.
Clarke is not without solutions, however.
To the Milwaukee native, a drastic increase in the number of police officers and deputies is essential. Clarke estimates that between 300 and 500 officers would make a considerable difference in the prevalence of crime in Milwaukee.
“I’m at 2010 staffing levels. It’s 2014.”
Also, it would allow the Milwaukee Police Department to create and maintain trust between itself and Milwaukee residents by making more officers available to provide a constant police presence. Clarke calls it the “broken windows theory”.
However, Clarke’s call for more officers has resistance from local politicians. In addition, he finds that local politics and circuit courts are putting dangerous criminals through a “revolving door”, ultimately allowing violent offenders to roam the streets despite multiple offenses.
Still, some could argue that punishing heavily for all crimes, including offenses such as drug possession, only raises the crime rate and makes offenders unnecessarily unable to find work.
For Clarke, “drugs are one of the risk factors for crime,” and should be punished accordingly, especially if the perpetrator repeats the same offense over and over again, drug possession or otherwise.
Despite the rising rate of shootings per year, Clarke feels strongly that a Conceal Carry Weapon (CCW) permit allows citizens to protect themselves when the law cannot.
“It wasn’t designed to reduce crime,” said Clarke. “It was designed to give people their God-given right to defend themselves.”
The sheriff appeared confident in his campaign this year, noting his work experience, training, and college degrees as well as his opponent, Chris Moew’s lack thereof.
“Moews has no such resume. All his message is: ‘I’m not David Clarke.’ Thank God he’s not.”
Four years ago, Moews ran against Clarke and lost.
Clarke emphasized his desire to be an example to the people of Milwaukee, especially youth.
“We don’t have enough role models in the African American community,” said Clarke.
“I’m the only one left to role model, and I embrace that role that I play.”
The sheriff briefly addressed a statement made by Milwaukee Police Chief Flynn during a press release following a recent shooting on Hadley that injured two children. Flynn said that he wanted to give the residents of the area where the shooting occurred, “…a taste of life in the suburbs”. According to Clarke, the comment was less than tasteful.
“I think it was one of the most insensitive comments I’ve ever heard from a public official. He pretty much said that life in Milwaukee sucks.”
In addition, Clarke noted that the police presence that Flynn touted at the release lasted only about four days.
“Not much shocks me. I was shocked by that statement.”
Per the Associated Press, Clarke recently urged Milwaukee residents to be aware of action near synagogues and mosques, in light of conflict in Israel and Palestine.
“It’s a prevention message to the public,” said Clarke, noting that he is watching, but he needs the community to help him watch for potential crimes that may stoke up animosity between Jewish and Muslim communities in Milwaukee.
This call for cooperation and mutual trust among police officers and citizens appears to reflect much of Clarke’s vision for the future of Milwaukee, provided he sees yet another term.
Polls open for primary elections this coming Tuesday, August 12.