a clear morning in early May, Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. sits astride
his horse, his posture firm, in MacArthur Square in downtown
Milwaukee. While a photographer snaps his picture, a news crew appears
and begins filming. Shortly after the shoot wraps up, a reporter
swoops in to ask Clarke how the photo session is benefiting taxpayers.
Clarke looks the reporter squarely in the eye and says, "What
kind of question is that?"
behind his desk in his office in the Safety Building, Clarke shakes
his head in obvious disgust. For him, the encounter is an example of
how misguided the local media can be. "The media tries to make it
about me, but itís not about me," he says. "Theyíre
worried about me on a frickiní horse when they should be
interviewing (MPS superintendent) Dr. (Gregory) Thornton about low
reading scores or Mayor (Tom) Barrett about the lack of development in
the Park East corridor."
A career law
enforcement professional, Clarke spent 24 years with the Milwaukee
Police Department before becoming sheriff in 2002. At his fatherís
encouragement, Clarke joined the police force in 1978, at age 21.
"Itís something he always wanted to do, but the Police Academy
had different standards in his day," says Clarke. "You
needed 20/20 vision without glasses, which he didnít have." For
the senior David Clarke, a Korean War veteran, it was "an
opportunity to live vicariously through his son."
Raised by strict
parents, Clarke took immediately to law enforcement, spending 11 years
as a patrolman before being promoted to homicide detective. After
receiving his bachelorís degree in criminal justice management from
Concordia University Wisconsin, Clarke was promoted to captain in
1996, and later to commanding officer of the Police Departmentís
Intelligence Division. He also completed a leadership program at the
FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., and is currently pursuing a
masterís degree from the prestigious Naval Postgraduate School
Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, Calif.
Sheriff Lev Baldwin retired abruptly in early 2002 before finishing
his term, Clarke was one of 10 who applied to fill the position.
Then-Gov. Scott McCallum appointed Clarke in March 2002. "He was
looking for a good law man and thought I would be effective in this
position," says Clarke. In fact, in a phone conversation just
before Clarke took office, McCallum told him, "ĎDonít go
there and keep the seat warm. That office is in bad shape. Make a
difference,í" Clarke recalls. "Iíve kept my word."
In the 10 years
that heís been sheriff, Clarke has streamlined the department,
reining in overtime payments and misuse of sick days. He led the
charge to improve the quality of life at Bradford Beach and assigned
deputies to patrol Milwaukee County buses, reducing the number of
violent incidents. In 2009, Clarke took over the House of Correction
in Franklin, which had a $5 million deficit. A year later, during a
follow-up assessment, Dr. Jeffery Schwartz with the National Institute
of Corrections said the turnaround was "nothing short of
Clarke has strong views and isnít afraid to voice them, even on
matters beyond the realm of law enforcement. "Being sheriff is a
tremendous opportunity," Clarke says. "Shame on me if I
squandered the opportunity to at least raise issues. I couldnít live
with myself if I didnít."
Among the issues
Clarke feels strongly about is the faltering Milwaukee Public Schools
system. According to a 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress
report, Milwaukee ranks in the bottom five of all cities in the nation
when it comes to reading scores. Clarke cites school failure as one of
the most significant risk factors for crime, along with unemployment,
inadequate housing and poverty (Milwaukee remains one of Americaís
10 most impoverished big cities, with a poverty rate of 29.4 percent,
according to 2011 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau). "The risk
factors are being ignored," Clarke says. "We canít leave a
class of people behind and think itís going to be OK. Those are the
people filling up that jail across the street."
Gun control is
another hot-button issue that has landed Clarke in the media as of
late. In a public service announcement released in January, the
sheriff told viewers that calling 9-1-1 and waiting was no longer
their best option and encouraged citizens to learn to defend
themselves. Clarke says that too many people misidentify the causes of
gun violence, making it more difficult for law-abiding gun owners.
"Why are we hassling them, instead of hammering the people that
use guns to perpetrate crimes?" Clarke says Milwaukeeís
approach to gun violence has been ineffective. "The city says
theyíre treating gun crime seriously, but they canít demonstrate
how theyíre doing it," says Clarke. "Iím a bottom-line
guy. Where are the results?"
eviscerating the Second Amendment, Clarke wants to see gun crimes
turned over to federal authorities. He points to cities like Boston,
which has had success with such programs. "We need to send a
message that you canít use a gun to perpetrate a crime in this
city," he says.
Clarke says he
is a nonconformist by nature. Heís willing to challenge the status
quo and look for new and better ways to get things done. On his office
wall hangs a poster that says simply "Gitír done." He
makes no apologies for who he is. "Iím comfortable in my own
skin," he says. "The political class doesnít like that I
wonít play by their rules, but they didnít put me here. The voters
West Bend Police
Chief Ken Meuler says Clarke hasnít changed much from the person he
was when they attended Marquette University High School together.
"Heís very much the same," says Meuler, who also served as
a Milwaukee police officer with Clarke. "He was always a
Despite ó or
perhaps because of ó his willingness to speak his mind, Clarke was
re-elected sheriff in 2006 and 2010, after being initially elected in
November 2002. "People want a Ďballs to the wallí
law-enforcement executive," Clarke says. "They want someone
who exhibits strength, confidence and consistency."
As a public
figure, Clarke says, people want to label you. "They want you to
be monolithic." Although he espouses conservative views, Clarke
has always run as a Democrat. Yet, heís never officially joined a
political party and says he never will. "Who cares if itís a
Democrat or a Republican in office?" asks Clarke. "Iím a
35-year career cop, first and foremost." Although Clarke believes
thereís nothing partisan about law enforcement, he knows heíll
never escape questions about his political affiliation.
Clarke says the
best compliment he ever received was while having dinner at Rock
Bottom Brewery a few years ago. "A gentleman came up and told me
he didnít agree with a lot of my philosophies and policies, but he
liked what I was doing."
In April, Clarke
was named 2013 Sheriff of the Year by the Constitutional Sheriffs and
Peace Officers Association. "Instead of going along to get along,
Sheriff Clarke has stayed true to his oath, true to his badge, and
true to the people he promised to serve and protect," says CSPOA
Executive Director Richard Mack. The organization recognized Clarke
for demonstrating true leadership and courage to do whatís best for
his constituents despite enormous pressures to go along with the
political correctness of the day. "Iím proud of this award
because I was selected by my peers," Clarke says. "What they
said about me was very humbling."
reader, Clarke devours nonfiction, particularly about public figures
he admires like Rudolph Giuliani, Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice
and Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and director of pediatric surgery at
Johns Hopkins. "The common thread of what I read is overcoming
adversity," Clarke says.
though, the person Clarke admires most is his father.
tough as nails," says Clarke of the one-time airborne ranger.
Photos of his father from his military days are displayed prominently
on his desk. "He was strict, but in a loving sense," says
Clarke. "Heís my biggest role model."
becoming sheriff, Clarke learned he was expected to ride a horse. The
sheriff, who has owned a cowboy hat and boots since his late teens,
was nonplussed. "My first pair of boots were iguana skin Dan
Posts," says Clarke, who recalls coveting his Texan cousinsí
Western attire growing up. Clarkeís interest in horses began at an
early age when a friend of his fatherís gave him two small horse
figurines. "I thought that was the neatest thing." Heíd
long wanted his own horse, but his wife vetoed the notion until he
a couple of years ago when an acquaintance told Clarke about a ranch
in Washington County that was selling off its horses. Promising his
wife he was only going to look, Clarke visited the ranch and instantly
fell in love with a solid black paint horse named Ranger. Since
becoming a horse owner, Clarke has devoted himself to learning all he
can about the gentle creatures. He uses nonverbal commands to
communicate with Ranger. "Itís all about energy," he says.
"Itís about getting them to focus on you."
realized that learning to communicate nonverbally applies to human
nature as well. "With voice, there so much potential for
misunderstanding," he says. "If we learned to communicate in
other ways, I think weíd be much better off."