Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. blazed into national headlines and became a sort of conservative folk hero over his Friday radio ad telling listeners, "Simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option" -- they should consider arming themselves.
But in a televised appearance on CNN on Tuesday night, Clarke squared off with the mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett, who blasted his fellow office-holder as "irresponsible" and overstepping his turf.
“The sheriff is not the law enforcement officer who has jurisdiction over the Milwaukee Police Department,” Barrett said -- that would be Milwaukee Police Chief Edward A. Flynn, who has criticized the National Rifle Assn. and stepped forward to support stiffer gun laws.
The overwhelming majority of crimes in Milwaukee County -- whose voters have easily reelected Clarke in recent years -- fall under the city police department's jurisdiction, which typically sees scores of homicides a year.
In contrast, in 2010, Clarke's deputies reported handling two burglaries, nine robberies and zero murders.
“That ad implied the sheriff and the sheriff’s department will come to callers' residences, but it’s not true," Barrett said, adding, "To have a sheriff basically imply that he’s not going to help you if you call 911, it’s irresponsible."
Clarke responded by touching on a long-running controversy in Milwaukee over police response times, citing cutbacks. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provoked controversy when it published information showing that the Milwaukee Police Department's dispatch response times had slowed in recent years, averaging 17 minutes and 55 seconds for armed robbery calls in 2010.
Host Piers Morgan, who favors tougher gun legislation, tangled with Clarke at length over the sheriff's call to arms. He asked Clarke how many Milwaukee residents had defended themselves by using guns.
"I don't have those statistics," Clarke said.
"Give me a ballpark," Morgan said.
"I don't think we need to go there," Clarke replied.
Clarke also declined to respond to the mayor, Barrett, when he asked Clarke whether he would support universal background checks for gun buyers. "I didn't interrupt you, mayor," Clarke said. He also declined to answer Morgan when pressed.
“We should start enforcing the laws that are on the books first before we penalize” law-abiding citizens, Clarke said. When Morgan objected that Clarke's response was a non-answer, Clarke replied, “It might not be the answer you wanted, but it’s an answer.”