Sheriffs are still kind of a big deal in some places in Wisconsin. In rural and even suburban counties ranging from Washington to Adams to Polk to Price they fight most of the crime.
And in Milwaukee County? Not so much.
There were 7,380 violent crimes in Milwaukee County in 2011, according to Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance statistics. Twenty police departments handled 98 percent of them.
The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department, which is run by the Great American Gunslinger David Clarke, handled the rest, exactly 163. No offense to the fine deputies who mostly patrol the highways and staff the jails and watch the parks, but when it comes to violent crime, they could take every other day off. Not that you'd know it from hearing Clarke talk - and talk.
Clarke can be entertaining, and I realize he doesn't always mean exactly what he says. For instance, he recently made a public service announcement that received nationwide attention:
"With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option," he said. "You can beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you can fight back. But are you prepared? Consider taking a certified safety course in handling a firearm so you can defend yourself until we get there. You have a duty to protect yourself and your family. We're partners now. Can I count on you?"
Of course, what he really meant was: "The county executive wants to cut my staff and I'm perturbed. And even though 98 times out of 100 my guys aren't the ones responding to your emergency anyway, you should be up in arms too - maybe literally."
I suppose, giving the sheriff the benefit of the doubt, you could forgive him for not really making it crystal clear that people need to immediately call 911. After all, there's nothing wrong with responsible adults taking safety courses and using guns to defend themselves against criminals. Now, though, it turns out he has another rationale.
In an interview with radio entertainer Alex Jones, he took a shot (only a verbal one) at Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn. "Citizens, you're on your own," Clarke accused them of saying. "We're abandoning you."
He did more, though, than suggest Milwaukee County needs more government. He also suggested in an oddly paranoid way that there is too much.
Jones, who is actually not yet in a straitjacket, asked Clarke why "the government class, the socialist class" wants "our guns so bad right now?"
"I don't want to get way out there and try to guess what they're getting at," responded Clarke, who I am pretty sure actually works for the government. "But, really, government control cannot go on as long as people have some sort of ability to say, 'Hey, wait, just a doggone minute.' That's what the government fears. They don't really fear the criminal. They support the criminal after they've been arrested. But what they fear is a law-abiding person ...
"I mean read the Declaration of Independence," Clarke continued. "It's right there, where law-abiding people say, 'Enough is enough - you're exerting too much influence in our lives. This is tyrannical, and we're going to stop it.' That's what they're worried about."
So there you have it, straight from the Gunslinger: The police and the rest of the government have abandoned you so get a gun that you can use to fend them off when they try to control you instead. What they fear most, after all, is a citizenry that can fight back. Oh, by the way, if you're looking for a leader in that fight, a certain sheriff might just be available.
It's not like he has a lot of other responsibilities right now.