MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke spoke before Milwaukee's Public Safety Committee on Friday, June 24th to weigh in on the effort to combat violence in the city. From Clarke's perspective, the bottom line is Milwaukee needs to hire hundreds of new police officers, enforce quality-of-life issues more harshly, and completely revamp the juvenile justice system.
The sheriff told aldermen on the committee that "hot-spot" policing works on a limited basis. Clarke said what the city needs is more cops; "A consistently visible presence." So his first suggestion to the committee was to hire 400 new police officers in addition to replacing any retired officers.
"They are understaffed and under siege, just keeping up with calls for service," Clarke said.
Alderman Terry Witkowski asked the sheriff how the city can pay for 400 new officers. He noted budget cuts are not exactly popular while the state has limited the city's ability to tax.
Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton said the city will take a close look at MPD staffing.
"I don't want to be chasing a mythical number out there -- and it's no longer practical for us to have that goal," Hamilton said. "We need to do a reassessment of what the right staffing levels are for a city of our size and the crime we have in our city."
The city is already facing a potential wave of MPD retirements. More than 300 officers will be eligible for retirement over the next 18 months. Hamilton says the most recent city budget has funding to hire 130 more officers.
"I think we can maximize that by retaining some (officers eligible for retirement) and at the very least, try to match what we did last year," Hamilton said.
Sheriff Clarke also called for more "broken windows-type policing."
"I think it has to include tactics like stop-question-and-frisk, continual warrant sweeps to get these bad actors off the street, heavy traffic enforcement," Clarke said.
The ACLU of Wisconsin says such tactics could worsen an already existing mistrust between police and those living in high-crime neighborhoods.
"I'd say the bottom line is: it's good he's part of this conversation. But to a large extent, he's out of step," said Chris Ahmuty of the Wisconsin ACLU.
Critics of "broken windows" policing also say it can destroy a neighborhood over multiple generations. By having much of its men incarcerated, many children grow up without proper guidance. Clarke also attacked that argument.
"The family unit in the Milwaukee ghetto is in tatters. There is no family structure," Clarke said, "Why are we trying to preserve that? There is none. Let’s not fool ourselves."
Critics of the sheriff in the tiny audience snickered when the committee's chairman, Alderman Bob Donovan, asked Clarke if crime was also rising in the suburbs. Clarke responded by saying, "I don't know," prompting a pair of onlookers to remark, "It's your county."
In his final suggestion, Clarke called for a total redesign of the juvenile justice system. He said it must be updated for a time when teens are now committing serious crimes like armed carjacking.
"Doesn't have the support system at home, he's not going to school, he's never had a job. You cannot work with that guy with a program and think you're going to change behavior," he said.
Clarke also suggested the county's House of Correction could house serious juvenile offenders. He told the committee there are currently five unoccupied dorms there with a capacity for 70 beds each. A spokeswoman at the county executive's office says while there are five unoccupied dorms, only one can hold 70 inmates. Three others have a capacity of 60 and the other can hold 30 -- a total of 280 beds.
Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said he would happily accept 400 new police officers on his force, but wonders how to pay for them. Alderman Witkowski estimates it would cost about $40 million. An MPD spokesman tells Fox 6 that estimate is accurate.
Clarke said extended hours in the justice system would also go a long way.
"The cops work 24/7," Clarke said, "Why does the rest of the criminal justice system work a 9-5? They’re shut down for 16 hours while we’re arresting people."
Next week, representatives from county and city courts will meet with the Public Safety Committee.