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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher January 31, 2013

Calling on citizens to get gun training, Milwaukee County sheriff says response to crime calls slowed by layoffs

When Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. called on citizens to learn to use guns to defend themselves, he said fewer cops on the street meant that "simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option."

The same day, Jan. 25, 2013, he elaborated on the radio spot. He told conservative talk show host Vicki McKenna on WISN-AM (1130) in Milwaukee:

"We need a new model. We're still operating -- when I say we, in law enforcement -- are operating under an old model that was actually developed in the 1980s. It was called rapid response. Law enforcement officials convinced city leaders to spend a lot of money hiring new officers and they promised that they could get to calls quickly; that's why it was called the rapid response model.

"And the elected officials, they went along with it and there was this big hiring of police officers that went on in the ’80s. And there were, at that time, there were enough people to get to calls in a reasonable period of time.

"Well since then, obviously, budgets, budget considerations -- cops have been laid off, fewer dollars going into public safety; my own agency, I had to lay off 48 people last year."

So, are there 48 fewer sheriff’s deputies responding to urgent crime calls?

Most laid off were rehired

Clarke’s 30-second public service announcement made national news. He did TV interviews on CNN, Fox and again on CNN, as well as a radio interview with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity. He repeated his claim about layoffs, though he used a smaller figure than the 48 he cited in the McKenna interview.

Clarke refused our request to back up for his claim about 48 layoffs.

We went to the files.

Because of a budget cut imposed by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Clarke was forced to do 48 layoffs in February 2012, according to a news article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. At the time, Clarke’s spokeswoman said no decisions had been made on whether any tasks of the sheriff's office would be curtailed.

Seven months later, Clarke said he was rehiring 29 of the deputies because staffing at the county jail was dangerously low.

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There was no mention of lacking deputies to respond to urgent calls about crime.

The number actually rehired as of October 2012 was 25, according to a list provided by Abele’s office.

It’s important to note that while the 48 layoffs number was correct, Clarke presented it as if that number was what was currently having a detriment on response times. That is, as if it was the situation as it exists today. It does not, given that more than half of the layoffs have been restored.

What’s more, the indication is that the layoffs were in jail positions, not among deputies who may be called on to respond to serious crimes.

Role of sheriff

Even if the layoffs affected deputies who respond to serious crimes, the fact is the Sheriff’s Office handles only a small percentage of such calls in Milwaukee County.

The Sheriff’s Office runs two jails, patrols freeways and provides security for the airport, the courthouse and other facilities. But in terms of crime fighting, its territory is generally limited to properties owned by the county, such as parks. Milwaukee County is heavily urbanized and municipalities have their own police departments that respond to crime calls.

In 2010, according to the state Office of Justice Assistance, the Sheriff’s Office responded to just 10 violent crimes. That jumped to 163 in 2011. But the 163 represented just 2 percent of the 7,380 violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) reported throughout the county in 2011.

Similarly, the Sheriff’s Office handled 224 property crimes (burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, arson) in 2011. That was up from 28 in 2010, but comprised less than 1 percent of the 43,615 property crimes in the county.

Suffice it to say: If a person in Milwaukee County calls 911 about a serious crime in progress, in the vast majority of cases, a police officer and not a sheriff’s deputy would respond. So, again, the linkage Clarke makes between the layoffs and response times falls flat.

Our rating

Clarke said: "I had to lay off 48 people last year," which has exacerbated the lack of law enforcement officers in the county that respond quickly to crime calls.

The Sheriff’s Office did lay off 48 people in 2012, but most have been rehired. Moreover, the office handles only a fraction of serious crimes in Milwaukee.

We rate Clarke’s statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

WISN-AM (1130), Vicki McKenna interview (at 7:00) of Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., Jan. 25, 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Sheriff David Clarke’s radio ad says 911 not best option, urges residents to take firearms classes," Jan. 25, 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Clarke rehiring 29 of 48 laid-off deputies," Sept. 10, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Clarke drops legal fight over laid-off deputies," Feb. 2, 2012

Email interview, Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. public information officer Fran McLaughlin, Jan. 26, 2013

Interview, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele communications director Brendan Conway, Jan. 28, 2013

FBI, 2010 uniform crime report statistics by county

FBI, 2010 uniform crime report statistics by municipality

Milwaukee County Sheriff 2013 operating budget

Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance, "Crime in Wisconsin 2011," December 2012

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Calling on citizens to get gun training, Milwaukee County sheriff says response to crime calls slowed by layoffs

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