Clarke says he won’t implement deal on park patrols
Clarke also said he may have deputies start patrolling Milwaukee neighborhoods unless Mayor Tom Barrett steps up local police presence.
The sheriff tied the warnings to Monday’s announcement that Barrett and County Executive Chris Abele had reached a preliminary agreement to have Milwaukee police take over patrolling county parks in the city and the lakefront and more of the 911 system. Clarke says Milwaukee police are already stretched too thinly to add park patrols.
“I don’t really care what they have worked out,” Clarke said in an interview. “It’s not binding on me.”
As an independently elected constitutional officer, it’s up to him to decide how best to perform his duties, Clarke said.
“This is nothing more than a political attempt by these two to try to neutralize me, probably politically,” said Clarke. He’s been sheriff for a decade but has made no secret of his interest in higher office.
Clarke called it a ridiculous plan that would shift costs, not save money, and put Milwaukee officers in jeopardy.
He sought to pressure Barrett by emphasizing concern over the adequacy of city police protection and residents upset police don’t place a higher priority on property crimes. He noted there were two burglaries in his northwest side neighborhood Monday, reinforcing the need for more police attention to property crimes.
Limited police resources should not be diverted to park patrols, Clarke said.
“Barrett must tell citizens and business owners in the city of Milwaukee what he will specifically provide to the Milwaukee Police Department to better safeguard people and property,” Clarke said.
“If he does not do this, I will redirect some of my resources to neighborhoods that are demanding more law enforcement presence.”
Patrick Curley, Barrett’s chief of staff, said the mayor had no reaction to or comment on Clarke’s statement.
Clarke also questioned figures Abele and Barrett announced Monday the county would pay for city parks patrol and greater responsibility for 911 calls. The deal envisions a $1.7 million payment from the county to the city next year, but a $3.3 million cut in the sheriff’s budget. Barrett and Abele said the Police Department could handle the parks patrols more efficiently, yielding savings for both the city and the county.
The plan from Barrett and Abele unveiled Monday would include a $3.3 million cut to Clarke’s budget next year and layoffs of up to 21 deputies and two other sheriff’s employees. Half the money would go to pay the city for the park and lakefront patrols and extra 911 calls; the rest would go to other county budget areas.
Clarke said he spent only $1.4 million on park patrols, far less than the $3.3 million cut to his budget Abele is proposing. The $3.3 million was based on the sheriff’s 2012 budget for park patrols as well as his tactical enforcement unit, which includes a bomb squad and SWAT team, said Abele spokesman Brendan Conway. Abele proposed cutting the same unit by $1.5 million for 2012, but the County Board restored that funding.
State Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) jumped into the fray Tuesday, saying the Abele-Barrett plan would set a “dangerous precedent” by shifting county property taxes paid by suburban residents to the city. Stone lost to Abele in the 2011 county executive election.
Curley, in an email to Stone, said the suburbs would benefit and chided Stone for an anti-Milwaukee “knee-jerk.” The plan calls for the county sending $250,000 to the suburbs to help pay for suburban patrols of county parks.
County Supervisor Mark Borkowski said Clarke’s suggestion he’ll deploy deputies on city neighborhood patrols “is just as goofy as the Milwaukee police patrolling the parks.”
Borkowski, the chairman of the County Board’s judiciary committee, said the plan by the mayor and county executive was empty rhetoric. They failed to explain how they would wring the large savings by shifting the patrol duties, Borkowski said.
Supervisor Deanna Alexander, whose County Board district includes Clarke’s neighborhood, called the Barrett-Abele plan a “shell game.” She’ll review a formal proposal on the park patrols change, but for now backs the Sheriff’s Department continuing in its present role, Alexander said in a statement.
Barrett and Abele said Monday the plan would save tax money and provide service more efficiently.
Clarke also noted that the cellphone switch envisioned in the Barrett-Abele plan began last year. The city had tentatively agreed to take over all city-based 911 cellphone calls but asked the county to limit the switch to four cellphone providers – T-Mobile, Verizon, Cricket and Sprint. The sheriff’s office retained responsibility for calls through U.S. Cellular and AT&T.
That deal was already worked out and did not call for any county payments, except for shifting cellphone towers. The Barrett-Abele plan would include a $463,000 annual payment from the county to the city for taking on additional cellphone 911 responsibility.
John Diedrich and Don Walker of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.