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Republican Steven Duckhorn Takes on Sheriff David Clarke

MPD officer calls out Clarke for mismanagement of resources and lack of respect for county residents

Oct. 13, 2010
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Controversial Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke barely made it through the Democratic primary in September and now faces the Republican candidate for Milwaukee County sheriff, Steven Duckhorn, on the Nov. 2 ballot. Duckhorn is a 16-year veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department, where he is assigned to District 6 on the South Side.

Duckhorn, who was adopted by American missionaries while they were working in Colombia, moved to Milwaukee as a child and became a U.S. citizen in 1976.

“I have relatives who are police officers, and the ability to change people’s lives and help them through their worst moments is what compelled me to go into law enforcement,” Duckhorn said.

While Clarke once again declined to speak to the Shepherd about his record in office and why he believes he should be re-elected, Duckhorn had a lengthy conversation about Clarke’s tenure and what he’d do if elected. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:

Why did you decide to run for sheriff?

I’ve been a police officer for about 17 years and what I’ve noticed from working really closely with the Milwaukee County sheriff is that there is a culture of disrespect within the department that is led by David Clarke. The way that deputies are spoken to is very condescending. The way that community groups are spoken to, particularly the comments David Clarke has made regarding the African-American community, other communities—the culture needs to change.

David Clarke gets results, but he gets it through belittling people, through vulgarity, through threats, through dangerous transfers that he’s even been rebuked by the court system for. I’d get those results, but I’d do it by talking respectfully and garnering that respect by example, not by dictatorship.

If you are elected, how would you change the focus of the sheriff’s department?

What I’m going to change is that the Milwaukee County sheriff is going to consult with other police departments in garnering the best strategy to fight crime on the perimeter of Milwaukee County. First I would allow the local police departments to do what they do. I’d get out of their way. Wauwatosa, Hales Corners, Greenfield—they’re all capable of patrolling their own communities.

But we have rising crime regarding gangs, drugs and, in particular, underage prostitution trafficking coming up I-94. The sheriff’s office has almost abolished its gang unit and its drug unit, which means at this time you have no police department that has a strategy for gangs and drugs and missing teen girls. It’s becoming a big problem. I want to partner with groups in Kenosha, Racine and Waukegan and find out what their crime trends are. By partnering with them I’d be able to get critical information out there to the deputies who patrol the airport and I-94. I’d not only make sure that we’re patrolling the freeways, but patrolling them smarter because we have better information. That’s something that David Clarke hasn’t done by isolating other departments. By having his own agenda he’s cut off critical connections of information.

Another big change is that I would reallocate where deputies are put. We know that in this economy you can’t just walk in and say, “I need 100 more deputies.” But many of the deputies are tied up in responsibilities and services that are already duplicated by other police departments. They’re in the city doing foot patrol and bike patrol. Well, the MPD already has those services. We have three or four deputies who follow McGruff the Crime Dog everywhere he goes.

I would get them back into the airport, out into the parks and onto the highway so that if you’re in an accident the response time is short; if there’s a drunk driver, that person is taken away to safety. I’d get deputies back into the jail so we don’t have people dying randomly and have deputies that are over-stressed and we don’t have inmates that are sitting for 20 hours when they could be processed in five hours.

You’ve been highly critical of Clarke’s handling of the jail and his multiple violations of a consent decree that attempted to force him to reduce processing times and overcrowding at the facility. How would you handle that?

First I would deal with why people are brought in. The MPD has a Neighborhood Task Force. They bring in a good number of prisoners that oftentimes have simple municipal warrants that could be taken care of at an MPD level. But the department needs numbers; they need to show that they’re performing. So they bring in these arrests. These arrests get transferred to the sheriff. They sit at the sheriff, they get processed out, they get their cell and out they go. Many of these people have warrants for failure to pay a speeding ticket, failure to pay a disorderly conduct ticket, paternity.

One of the things I would do is work with some of these types of warrants where if these people do not need to come into the Milwaukee County jail, they don’t. The department that arrested them is compelled to handle their own warrant. Not every warrant can be handled this way. Some of them do have to go to court. But there are some [cases] where the officer is simply trying to run them through the process so they can gain the number. That’s unacceptable to me.

The second thing I would do is change the way that the departments talk to each other technology-wise. The Milwaukee Police Department has a system where prisoners are fingerprinted and photographed and it completely matches the technology that the Milwaukee County sheriff has. But because David Clarke wants to be the final word, he insists that these prisoners are fingerprinted and photographed again in the exact same procedure that was done before. This adds a two- or three-hour delay, whereas if we merged the technology so that both departments are on the same page, many prisoners could be processed by one department, run through a number, and head to court and eliminate hours of delay.

The final thing I would do is audit the central jail facility structure. I would look at every floor and look at what takes place on that floor, how many deputies are on that floor, how many are needed. I would also take a look at the different staffs’ stop and start times. If you talk to anyone who has gone to jail for something, they would tell you delays, delays, delays. You come into jail and the nurse will talk to you at a certain point. Then your paperwork is submitted for approval. Then you’re searched by deputies and you’re placed in open waiting. The problem is that the three parties that I mentioned do not stop and start their shifts at the same time. I would have all of these people stop and start at the same time so when you come in every resource from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office is there and prepared to process you.

What you have now is people who are taken in for something like a warrant or a speeding ticket and rather than being processed in two or three hours, they sit for 12 hours next to somebody who has assaulted and murdered a child. Both people receive the same punishment. Why? Because the sheriff is not staffing properly and because the shifts are not united the same way.


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