Milwaukee County sheriff: Don’t wait for the police; arm yourselves

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. has a message for residents in his jurisdiction: You can’t rely on him anymore. You need to arm yourself.

On Friday, the nominally Democratic sheriff issued a recorded public safety announcement on the radio and on the Web that encouraged residents to take their lives into their own hands.

Here’s the full transcript:

“I’m Sheriff David Clarke and I want to talk to you about something personal: your safety. It’s no longer a spectator sport; I need you in the game. But are you ready? With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option. 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.”


Crime is relatively rare in Clarke’s jurisdiction: In 2010, the Sheriff’s Department reported two burglaries, nine robberies and zero murders. (Preliminary data from 2012 were not available, and it’s not clear if the department submitted its crime statistics to the FBI for 2011.)

Also rare are justifiable homicides in the U.S.: About 260 private citizens lawfully killed someone committing a felony in 2011, or less than one case per every 1 million people in the nation.

Clarke’s announcement has nonetheless tapped into a raw current in American politics over the role guns play in a civil society, which has occasioned some slightly less-than-civil discourse.

“Apparently, Sheriff David Clarke is auditioning for the next Dirty Harry movie,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s office said in a statement.

That remark drew this retort from Clarke: “Several years ago, a tire-iron-wielding suspect beat Mayor Tom Barrett to within inches of his life. I would think that he would be a lot more sensitive to people being able to defend themselves in such instances. A firearm and a plan of defense would have come in handy for him that day.”

Barrett was calling 911 to report a fight when the suspect batted the phone out of his hand and began to beat him, according to a police report; the suspect, Anthony Peters, claimed to have a gun, but didn’t.

Clarke has been Milwaukee County’s sheriff since 2002 and, running as a Democrat, easily rolled to reelection. His remarks, however, have earned him praise among conservatives, and he has occasionally flirted with the tea party.

In the days after the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Clarke again raised the proverbial call to arms in an Op-Ed article on a tea party website.

In those remarks, Clarke said gun control advocates were “sheep” and called for “an armed tactical trained officer or security officer in every school and public place [theaters, malls, etc.] in America.”


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