Half-True
Abele
Says David Clarke reduced the number of Milwaukee County sheriff's deputies "from about 700 and something to 300 and something."  

Chris Abele on Thursday, May 18th, 2017 in an interview

Has tough-on-crime Sheriff David Clarke cut the number of his deputies by half or more?

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele (left) and Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. have often clashed.

Has tough-talking Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., who has apparently landed a post in the administration of President Donald Trump, actually slashed the number of his deputies by half or more?

That’s the attack from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, the millionaire son of the co-founder of the Boston Scientific medical device company and a political nemesis of Clarke’s.

On May 18, 2017, the day after after Clarke announced he would be joining the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as an assistant secretary, Abele was asked on WTMJ radio in Milwaukee what legacy Clarke would leave behind.

(Clarke said he would take on his new post in June 2017, but the Trump administration has not confirmed Clarke’s announcement. Two days after Abele’s comments, CNN reported that Clarke plagiarized parts of his master’s thesis. Clarke has denied that accusation, but has said the report could kill his appointment.)

Abele, who was once accused by Clarke of having "penis envy," said Clarke’s legacies include reducing the number of deputies "long before I was there from about 700 and something to 300 and something."

Given that Clarke, who calls himself "America’s sheriff," has built a reputation on Fox News and elsewhere as being tough on crime, let’s see if Abele’s statement is on point.

Sheriff’s role on crime

Clarke’s national profile as a favorite of conservatives has risen largely because of his blunt comments on crime, among other topics. In a 2013 interview, he advised citizens, in the context of a home invasion, to "point that barrel center mass and pull the trigger" because "911 is not our best option."

But given that all of Milwaukee County is served by city and village police departments, the role of the Sheriff’s Office isn’t on the front line as much in fighting crime. In 2011, we rated Half True a claim by Abele that the sheriff’s office "plays only a limited role as a traditional law enforcement agency."

We noted at the time that Abele had proposed with his county budget cutting 240 positions from the sheriff’s office.

That underscores an important point in weighing Abele’s claim: It’s the not the sheriff alone who determines how many deputies there will be.

In the annual county budget process, the sheriff asks for a certain number of deputies; then the county executive recommends a number as part of an overall county budget proposal; and ultimately a number is authorized when the County Board of Supervisors approves the county budget.

The numbers

(Note: All of the deputy figures in this article are authorized positions, rather than an actual count of deputies, given that the number fluctuates with retirements, resignations, etc.)

With the 2002 budget that Clarke inherited after he was elected, there were 649 deputy positions authorized for the sheriff’s office. In the 2011 budget, the final one before Abele took over as county executive, there were 328 deputy positions. The executive during those years was Wisconsin’s current governor, Republican Scott Walker.

So, as far as the numbers go, Abele was high with the first part of his claim but on target with the second part.

But the thrust of Abele’s claim is that Clarke reduced the deputy positions.

This chart shows the number of deputies Clarke sought with his budget request; the number that were recommended by Walker with his full county budget proposal; and the number that were ultimately authorized in the final budget approved by the County Board. Again, we’re looking at the period before Abele took over as county executive.

Year

Deputies requested by sheriff

Deputies recommended by county executive

Deputies authorized by County Board

2003

*

627

625

2004

*

573

593

2005

*

588

588

2006

538

519

519

2007

443

443

475

2008

457

457

457

2009

439

435

435

2010

393

393

393

2011

328

328

328

*Not available

The figures, from the county budget office, are incomplete for the first three years. The number of deputies ultimately authorized by the County Board dropped by 37 by 2005, but the figures don’t show whether Clarke requested any reductions.

In any case, 2005 was an important year.

In that budget, Clarke requested and the County Board approved, changing 200 positions in the county jail from deputies to lower-paid correctional officers. The change was not immediate; as deputies left the jail jobs, they were replaced by correctional officers. Over the next several years, the number of deputies steadily declined.

In fact, Clarke requested fewer deputies than he did in the previous year in each year but one between 2006 and 2011 -- when he requested and was authorized 328 deputy positions.

So, there were 649 authorized deputy positions when Clarke took office and only 328 by the time Abele took office. That’s a reduction of 321 deputy positions. But the reduction in total force was less, given that 200 of the deputies were jailers who were replaced by correctional officers.

Our rating

Abele said that before he took over as county executive, Clarke reduced the number of sheriff’s deputies from about 700 to about 300.

The sheriff’s office had 649 authorized deputy positions when Clarke took office in 2003 and 328 in 2011, the final county budget before Abele took over. That’s a total reduction of 321.

Incomplete county records don’t indicate whether deputy reductions during first three years were requested by Clarke or were simply made by the County Board. But in 2005, he requested and was granted a gradual turnover of 200 positions in the county jail from being deputies to lower-paid correctional officers.

So, at least 200 of the 321 deputy reductions were specifically requested by Clarke, although those 200 deputies were jailers who were replaced by lower-paid correctional officers.

We rate Abele’s statement Half True.

Share the Facts
3
1
7
PolitiFact rating logo PolitiFact Rating:
Half True
Says David Clarke reduced the number of Milwaukee County sheriff's deputies "from about 700 and something to 300 and something."
In an interview
Thursday, May 18, 2017