According to headlines in various blogs and news sites, such as Politico, Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, Jr. in a PSA for his community told citizens “Skip 911, defend yourselves”. The Politico article further quotes Sheriff Clarke as saying that “in some cases, calling the police would be of no use”. The reaction is one of shock and scandalized surprise, including that of the Mayor, but is that what Sheriff Clarke was really saying?
While the mayor’s reaction appears to be motivated by concern over his city’s reputation, some of the other reactions are less understandable. When listening to the entire PSA, Sheriff Clarke message is more along the lines of encouraging citizens to be proactive and prepared in cases of sudden violence, such as armed robberies or a car-jacking in light of lengthier response times, along with recommendations on how best to achieve being prepared.
Some accuse the Sheriff of playing political hardball over budgeting issues, however, he addresses the issue in subsequent interviews stating that the cuts have gone on for several years without such PSA’s being produced. According to the interview, his primary concern was for the citizens he was responsible for and he was seeking creative solutions to help extend the law enforcement dollars he has to work with. One of his best quotes was: “personal safety is not a spectator sport.” In short, he was working to establish cooperative partnerships with citizens to help themselves until law enforcement could arrive.
He is reminding citizens of an important fact that has gotten lost by the wayside. No matter how many officers are on the street, each citizen is legally, practically and morally responsible for their own safety and wellbeing until law enforcement can arrive. In much the same respect, people are not shocked or dismayed by a doctor announcing that if patients do not eat right, exercise, sleep and stay away from drugs and alcohol, any treatments they offer will not be effective. Nor would people be scandalized by a mechanic reminding them to check the fluid levels and tire pressure in their vehicles to ensure it functions correctly.
A fundamental truth in any society, no matter how many government services are offered ostensibly to “protect” its citizens, there simply is no substitute for attending to our own welfare. We really do have to look before crossing a street. Yes, pedestrians usually have the right of way, but that is small comfort if in failing to look or yield to a ton of metal and fiberglass not following “the rules”, we are smeared across the asphalt. The common response here is “I’ll just sue them,” does nothing to repair sometimes permanent catastrophic injuries suffered as a result. In the same way, expecting to live one’s life oblivious or willfully ignoring the potential of being victimized doesn’t make that threat just go away.
It is troubling to watch the extent to which so many people are abdicating their responsibility to take basic steps for their own safety. Cars are now being designed with “accident prevention” systems while drivers blithely drive distracted by cell phones, texting, putting on makeup or shaving, among other, frankly stupid behavior behind the wheel. More than one person has given themselves a trip to the emergency room for walking and texting themselves into poles or down into stairwells or off ledges. What is worse is that some do not learn from the experience.
Some of the folks complaining about Sherriff Clarke’s PSA are those who are sanctimonious about “those people” carrying guns being part of the problem. In fact, those who so proudly eschew guns and violence are often the same people that fail to take basic steps to ensure their own safety. They complain about law enforcement failing to keep them from being victimized or being too heavy handed, complain about others who concealed carry for being vigilantes or cop “wannabee’s”. Throughout all this complaining, they are nowhere to be found to attend safety or preparedness seminars, participate in neighborhood watch programs or even something so simple as putting phones and other devices away before driving.
Law enforcement has always and always will be a partnership and cooperative effort between the officers and citizens. How well that partnership works depends on the participation and cooperation between the partners. Sheriff Clarke, instead of being disparaged, should be commended for reminding his constituents of their duty and his efforts to support his citizens to achieve success in their endeavors. Law enforcement empowering their citizens to be active participants in securing their community ensures greater support for the department overall and leads to a far safer community than expecting law enforcement to deal with the aftermath of irresponsible behavior, rather than attending to apprehending the truly criminal element in society.
Milwaukee has an eminently practical, prudent and straightforward Sheriff in David Clarke Jr. It is my hope that his citizens will take his excellent advice and partner with him to deal with the challenges that every city and county has of particular bad neighborhoods and pockets of criminal activity. With his leadership, rather than abandoning them, Milwaukee citizens have a great opportunity to be empowered and partner with Sheriff Clarke to build a safer, more successful community together.
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Juli Adcock began her career in law enforcement with the Escambia County Florida Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy until she was injured in a riot situation. She transferred to Judicial Security and retired in 1998. Juli pursued career advancement training with an emphasis on officer survival, interviews and interrogation. She worked with a local Rape Crisis Center and in victim’s advocacy, complementing her college course work in psychology. She currently resides in New Mexico and is an instructor with The Appleseed Project (www.appleseedinfo.com). The Appleseed Project is a rifle marksmanship clinic teaching the fundamentals of firing an accurate round downrange every 3 to 4 seconds, out to 500 yards, as well as American history. She has trained military personnel at White Sands Missile Range who are certifying as Squad Designated Marksmen. Juli instructs basic handgun skills to new gun owners in preparation for responsible personal gun ownership. She also writes for The Badge Guys (www.thebadgeguys.com). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Law Enforcement Today