Milwaukee Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. Urges Citizens to Get Guns, Says Calling 911 “No Longer Best Option”
The sheriff of Wisconsin’s most populous county has stirred controversy by urging citizens to arm themselves and fight back in the event of a criminal emergency because dialing 911 was no longer their best option.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. made his eyebrow-raising comments in a radio ad that aired on WISN 1130 AM on Thursday. In the ad, Clarke says that personal safety isn’t a “spectator sport.”
“With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option,” Clarke says.
“I need you in the game,” the county’s top cop implores. “You could beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you could fight back.”
Clarke advises citizens to get guns and take firearm safety classes “so you can defend yourself until we get there.”
“You have a duty to protect yourself and your family,” Clarke says. “We’re partners now. Can I count on you?”
Clarke’s ad has ignited a firestorm of criticism among Milwaukee officials and anti-violence advocates.
“I think it’s irresponsible and it doesn’t help public safety to tell the public there’s some kind of imminent danger that they need to go buy guns,” Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele told the Journal Sentinel. “Essentially, you’ve got a (public service announcement) that’s recommending people need to go buy guns because they can’t rely on the response they’ll get from 911. I’m here to tell you, we have phenomenal police departments.”
Jodie Tabak, a spokeswoman for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, told the Journal Sentinel that Clarke seems to be “auditioning for the next Dirty Harry movie.”
Roy Felber, president of the Milwaukee Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, echoed Tabak’s accusation that the sheriff is endorsing vigilantism.
“That doesn’t sound smart,” Felber told the Journal Sentinel. “That’s why society has police officers.” Felber said a better solution would be to hire more police officers.
Jeri Bonavia, executive director of Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE), told the Journal Sentinel that police and the community should work to “take more guns off the streets, not add more.”
“What (Clarke’s) talking about is this amped up version of vigilantism,” Bonavia told the paper. “I don’t know what his motivations are for doing this. But I do know what he’s calling for is dangerous and irresponsible and he should be out there saying this is a mistake.”
Others voiced their support for Sheriff Clarke’s advice.
“It’s never been a great option (calling 911),” James Fendry, a former police officer and current director of the Wisconsin Pro Gun Movement, told the Journal Sentinel. “Unless you can take care of yourself, you’re kind of SOL.”
“You’re not armed to be law enforcement,” Fendry added. “You’re armed to protect your own life and the lives of your family until law enforcement arrives. Do not go on search and destroy missions in your home.”
Further afield, Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer said he understood Clarke’s point of view.
“I hear a bit of frustration in the sheriff’s voice, I really do,” Cramer told WEAU. “He’s saying, I want you people to talk about it and are you willing to risk your safety for laying off 41 deputies or should you be calling your county board supervisors?”
But back in the Milwaukee suburb of Greenfield, which is in Milwaukee County, the city’s police department sought to reassure residents that authorities were well prepared to quickly answer their 911 calls. “No Greenfield officers have been laid off or furloughed,” the department’s Facebook page stated. “Violent crime is down overall and in Greenfield. Our response time to violent crime is less than two minutes. The decision to arm yourself with a firearm is a very personal and private decision that should not be driven by fear that our officers will not respond to your calls for help.”
Tagged Chris Abele, Greenfield police, James Fendry, Jeri Bonavia, Jodie Tabak, Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr, Milwaukee sheriff says 911 no longer best option, Milwaukee sheriff urges citizens to arm, Roy Felber, Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, Wisconsin Pro Gun Movement