It’s primary election season, and the rhetoric is almost as hot as the temperatures outside. In an effort to provide you with as much information as possible, ThirdCoast Digest begins a five-week look at primary races in Milwaukee County and the state, ending with the big prize in 2010, Wisconsin Governor.

This week we focus on the sheriff’s race.

The GOP will be represented in November by Milwaukee Police Officer Steven Duckhorn. Democrats are being asked to choose their candidate during the Sept. 14 primary between Incumbent Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. and Milwaukee Police Lt. Chris Moews.

Clarke is a Democrat in Name Only. Appointed by Republican Gov. Scott McCallum in 2002, he ran successfully as a Democrat in Nov. 2002 and 2006. However, Clarke runs his department as a fiscal conservative and has implemented get-tough policies for prisoners and his staff. He is not a member of the Milwaukee County Democratic Party and he has championed that the elected office be non-partisan.

Clarke isn’t actively campaigning, other than announcing his candidacy in late April. Instead, he is relying on his daily job performance and record to influence voters. Since he did not respond to requests to explain his positions, we looked to his website for his positions for the 2010 race.

Clarke highlights the three principals he initially ran on in 2002 – to bring bold leadership to the office, hold people accountable and bring state-of-the-art public safety to the people of the county. He attacks those in the courthouse who have blocked his efforts and whose policies lead to “million-dollar budget deficits and obscene overtime” within the department.

Clarke promises to hold funding requests flat and implement policies that will hold spending down. In the past he has cut costs by eliminating staff through attrition and lay offs, replacing deputies with non-deputized jailers, hiring outside firms to transport inmates, changing inmate prescription providers and eliminating recreational programming at the jail and House of Corrections.

Public safety has been the hallmark of Clarke’s previous campaigns, specifically increasing patrols within the parks. As evidence of his parks priority, Clarke has permanently stationed a mobile command unit (with his name in four-inch letters on the side) at North Point on Milwaukee’s lakefront to provide a sense of security to users.

He also expanded the traditional reach of the Sheriff’s Department by adding foot patrols in the inner city of Milwaukee, pulling freeway patrols for gun sweeps and adding squads in suburban communities. This move has led to squabbles with police chiefs and suburban leaders, but Clarke says there is nothing constitutionally stopping him from providing these services.

He plans reforms at the county’s correctional facilities if re-elected with the addition of a boot camp program at the House of Correction. The camp, DOTS (Discipline, Order, Training and Structure), is slated to begin in December and will “give offenders the tools necessary for them to make a cognitive decision to change their behavior,” through dawn to dusk physical activity, basic education and job training.

So far, Clarke has not received the endorsement of other county leaders for the program, but he has said he will impose it no matter what.

“With my constitutional authority, if I have to, I’ll do it unilaterally,” he told theMilwaukee Journal Sentinel in July.

It is Clarke’s arrogance that led Milwaukee Police Lt. Chris Moews to throw his hat into the ring for the Democrat nomination.  He has already received the endorsement of the county party, along with that of the county deputies union, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold and the Fox Point and Greendale police associations.

Moews has been an active police officer for 16 years, starting his career in Fox Point before moving to the MPD. He has worked in patrol, narcotics, sensitive crimes and criminal investigations. He currently serves as the late shift Lieutenant supervising the Homicide Division.

Moews questions Clarke’s thrifty policies, which in his opinion have allowed the department’s staffing levels to dwindle. “Sheriff Clarke has not hired a single deputy since 2003,” Moews said. “Clarke has cost the county tens of thousands of dollars in employment lawsuits this year alone because of the way he treats his employees. If he were to honor their contracts and workers’ rights he would be able to hire additional deputies.”

Another area Moews will look at is the House of Correction.  He points to a recent study that puts the cost to house an inmate at the HOC for one year is approximately $38,000. To reduce this cost, Moews would have each inmate coming into the HOC undergo a risk-needs analysis, something Clarke has refused to use..

“A low-risk, high-needs inmate should be given the job training, education, drug and alcohol counseling, and other programs he or she needs to get out of the cycle of crime,” Moews said.  ”This is more fiscally responsible than locking up the individual and it will help reduce recidivism in the long-run.”

Moews also criticizes Clarke’s love of the limelight. He promises to focus on the safety of the community instead of sending out press releases and holding news conferences.

“While Clarke has been making himself look good, services and safety are plummeting. You need to feel safe in your home, on the road and in our parks.”

Clarke’s ongoing battles with the Milwaukee Deputy Sheriffs’ Association recently reignited with accusations of anexpletive-laden conversation with a union leader. Moews says he will work hard to restore respect between the department’s administration and deputies.

“David Clarke has instilled fear and a ‘Yes-Man’ mentality in his command staff,” Moews said. “As Sheriff, I will bring the kind of management philosophy that instills leadership at every level, from the Sheriff on down.”

As for inter-departmental relationships, Moews plans to engage suburban police chiefs, seeking collaborative efforts to keep the county safe. He contrasts that with Clarke, who according to Moews, sent a letter telling chiefs that as sheriff he was the “top law enforcement officer” in the county and that they were subordinate to him.

“As a police officer with experience in the suburbs and city, I understand each community’s safety needs and how we can work together.” To that end Moews plans to send out his own letter if elected Sheriff, asking suburban chiefs and leaders what crime issues are affecting their communities and then offering assistance and cooperation.

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