MKE Co. Sheriff candidates explain how they would address crime, staffing shortages ahead of primary election

The candidates include Chief Deputy Denita Ball, Captain Thomas Beal and Inspector Brian Barkow.
MKE Co Sheriff Candidates.png
Posted at 5:26 PM, Jul 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-28 19:15:51-04

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee County voters have a big decision ahead of them in less than two weeks when it comes to law enforcement. The county’s next sheriff will essentially be decided in the August primary.

The candidates include Chief Deputy Denita Ball, Captain Thomas Beal and Inspector Brian Barkow.

The three candidates for Milwaukee County Sheriff have several similarities. They’re all internal candidates within the sheriff’s office, each has more than 25 years of law enforcement experience and they’re all running as Democrats. But only one will replace Sheriff Earnell Lucas, who decided not to seek re-election.

TMJ4 News asked all three candidates the same questions and will focus on three key issues — how they plan to address reckless driving, shootings and the top issue facing the sheriff’s office. That’s where we start with Captain Beal who helps oversee the county jail.

"The top issue that I have with what's going on right now is recruitment and retention,” Captain Beal said. “We’re running in such a deficit when it comes to staffing with just all of our deputies, all of our correctional officers, that type of thing, so we need to actually build our numbers back up so we can provide effective service to the community."

Inspector Barkow commands the Investigative Services Bureau. If elected, he says his first priority on day one in office would be to address staffing shortages. Currently, the candidates say the jail currently has more than a hundred correctional officer vacancies.

“We’re facing devastating staffing shortages in the jail,” Inspector Barkow said. “So my first priority is we have to get our internal house in order first and we need to look at ways to attract talented employees. Take a look at what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, find out what employees want.”

Chief Deputy Ball is the second in command at the sheriff’s office. All three candidates say staffing shortages can be solved by offering more competitive pay and working with the county executive and county board to potentially offer additional hiring and retention bonuses.

"We have to make sure the job is attractive and if we are constantly bombarding them with mandatory overtime, it's not going to be because that means they don't have the work-life balance,” Chief Deputy Ball said.

While staffing shortages create an internal dilemma, externally Milwaukee County residents are dealing with a surge in crime. The sheriff’s office is responsible for patrolling more than 150 miles of freeways and county highways. TMJ4 News asked each candidate what solutions they would bring to the table to address reckless driving.

"My approach has always been evidence-based, data-driven strategies looking at where the incidents are occurring when they're occurring, time of day, day of week and making better scheduling choices and deployment choices with the finite resources we have,” Inspector Barkow said.

Inspector Barkow says data shows most reckless driving crashes are happening on the Marquette and Zoo Interchanges, so that’s where he would send more patrols. Captain Beal supports implementing a targeted approach, but he’s starting in a slightly different area.

"I'd say our biggest areas right now is I-43 northbound between the Marquette Interchange and Silver Spring. That area seems to be our highest activity rate right there,” Captain Beal said. “What we want to do is put more deputies or at least target more deputies to that area at certain times per day and start to reduce some of that reckless driving in that area.”

Chief Deputy Ball believes the county needs to focus on high visibility patrols across the freeway system.

"A lot of the reckless driving we see is because of the opportunity,” she said. If they're not seeing us focusing on the roadway and making it safer, then they're going to think they can do whatever they want to do."

From reckless driving to shootings, cutting down on homicide rates and non-fatal shootings is a priority for all three candidates. Each one believes the sheriff’s office needs a stronger partnership with the 19 municipalities and their police departments.

"We have to work in tandem,” Chief Deputy Ball said. “That means that the 19 municipalities and the county would have to work together. We have to leverage our resources. As we know, the technology is a big portion of that, so we have to make sure that we find out where the problem areas are and focus on those areas. So it also is important that we have communication, coordination and the sharing of data.”

“I have always tried to build on that as well as our other municipalities and I would continue to do that,” Inspector Barkow said. “Combine resources to there again, using data, evidence-based decision making, hotspot deployments.”

"The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, we are an agency that doesn’t directly patrol city streets generally, but work with the city of Milwaukee, to add some resources to help them solve some of these homicides and prevent some of these homicides,” Captain Ball said.

Since there are no Republican candidates for sheriff, the primary winner between Chief Deputy Ball, Inspector Barkow and Captain Beal will run unopposed in November. The new sheriff is expected to be sworn into office in January of 2023.

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