Mostly True
Says Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has "deputies collecting overtime while sitting passively in chairs watching courthouse security personnel work."

John Chisholm on Monday, June 2nd, 2014 in a letter

Do deputies get paid overtime to sit at courthouse security checkpoints and watch?

Visitors must pass through metal detectors to enter the Milwaukee County Courthouse. County workers man the detectors but a sheriff's deputy is stationed near each checkpoint.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. regularly uses the media to criticize other elected officials -- having, for example, accused Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele of penis envy and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett of being "clueless."

In contrast, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm rarely engages in public political battles.

So it was a surprise when Chisholm excoriated Clarke in a letter on June 2, 2014.

Among other things, Chisholm said the Sheriff's Office was running a budget deficit partly because Clarke has "deputies collecting overtime while sitting passively in chairs watching courthouse security personnel work."

Chisholm’s charge seemed worthy of a look.

The backdrop

The district attorney’s letter was in response to a letter he and the county’s chief judge received a few days earlier from Clarke.

Clarke, in the wake of a shooting of a 10-year-old Milwaukee girl, who was gravely wounded in the crossfire between two men on a playground, called for temporarily suspending plea bargaining and probation sentences for major crimes.

For years, he wrote, the county's prosecutors and judges had engaged in "soft-on-crime practices."

Security checkpoints

Security checkpoints for the county courthouse complex, which includes the Public Safety Building and the Criminal Justice Facility, are not the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office but rather the county Division of Facilities Management.

In other words, county workers, not sheriff’s deputies, check visitors and operate metal detectors at the various entrances to the complex. The security work is not part of the sheriff’s budget.

Clarke, however, has asserted his authority to help provide security.

In March 2013, Clarke announced that during an "integrity check," an undercover sheriff's deputy with a gun cleared security checkpoints at all six entrances into the county courthouse complex. He said that, as a result, he had ordered deputies posted at each security checkpoint in the complex until "he is convinced weapons cannot get through." He said the staffing would be paid for with overtime.

That staffing is continuing.

When we checked the entrances one afternoon in June 2014, we found two county employees manning each checkpoint and a deputy nearby. At one checkpoint, we saw a deputy actively working the metal detector; but at the others, a deputy was only observing.

Our colleagues who regularly visit the courthouse told us the same: usually they see deputies merely observing, but occasionally actively working a checkpoint.

For his part, Clarke told us the deputies are not posted at the checkpoints to watch the screeners.

"The deputies are there to provide an armed presence for the protection of the public and employees, and to prevent and deter an armed person from getting into the building," he said in an email.

The cost

There’s no dispute that overtime pay is being used, at least in part, to pay deputies to work security checkpoints at the courthouse complex. But the amount is not clear.

Based on overtime reports the Sheriff’s Office submits to county officials, it’s not possible to tell how much in overtime pay is being spent on deputies working security checkpoints at the courthouse complex, said county Auditor Jerome Heer.

Overall, the sheriff’s overtime expenditures have gone over budget.

In 2013, the Sheriff’s Office spent $5.9 million for overtime, exceeding the $3.6 million overtime budget, Heer said. As of June 23, 2014, he said, overtime expenditures were $2.7 million, which is on pace to exceed the overtime budget of $4.1 million.

Our rating

Chisholm said Clarke has "deputies collecting overtime while sitting passively in chairs watching courthouse security personnel work."

There’s no dispute that part of the sheriff’s overtime budget pays deputies to work security checkpoints at the courthouse complex. The deputies typically are observing visitors passing through the checkpoints, but sometimes get actively involved in screening them or monitoring metal detectors.

We rate Chisholm’s statement Mostly True.

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