Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas Talks Accountability, Defunding Police, And Pointing Fingers

Jul 14, 2020

Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas believes police officers are asked to solve too many of the community's problems.
Credit Courtesy of Earnell Lucas

Protesters around the country have been taking to the streets since May to speak out against police brutality. Here in Milwaukee, activists are calling for accountability and police reforms.

Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas has publicly said he supports discussions about reforming police departments. But he’s quick to emphasize that in his opinion, police officers are asked to solve too many of the problems in our community and he takes issue with people faulting police for many of these failures.

"Despite our best efforts, we’re not trained to deal with persons in mental health crisis. We’re not trained to deal with persons ... that have addictive behaviors. Nor are we trained to deal with those juveniles with emotional issues. Yet, all of those issues collapse and fall on law enforcement, so we do the very best we possibly can," says Lucas.

"Despite our best efforts, we're not trained to deal with persons in mental health crisis. We're not trained to deal with persons ... that have addictive behaviors."

When asked about defunding the police department and shifting those resources to other groups, Lucas says the conversation needs to start with looking at what police can "take off their plate." As for potential reforms, Lucas says there are already mechanisms in place to monitor police officers and keep them accountable to the public.

"When we talk about reform ... it's not a question of whether, 'Well, the police are not doing something.' Yes, we have all of those in place, it's just: are we applying them to the level and to the degree that many observers are saying that we could or we should?" says Lucas.

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Although these mechanisms are meant to prevent deaths and injustices caused by police, Lucas doesn't believe there is a definitive way to measure whether or not they've been successful. 

"How do you measure the absence of crime? You know, people are always saying, 'Well, how effective,' 'Do we know,' 'Do we need that many police in a community?' And it's hard to say," says Lucas. 

Lucas blames the "24-hour news cycle" and "cellphone cameras" for causing a decline in the relationship between police and the communities they are meant to serve.

Some would point to declining rates of crime or rising crime rates as markers of success or failure. Community surveys, service response time, and other analyses of police-community behaviors can also be used to measure the success of these kinds of programs. 

Lucas takes issue with the fact that police officers are monitored in a way that he believes is unfair. He blames the "24-hour news cycle" and "cellphone cameras" for causing a decline in the relationship between police and the communities they are meant to serve.

When pressed on why video recordings and increased accountability are ultimately to blame for these problems, he's quick to point the finger at "the media" for causing these rifts. But he also says, "When we point a finger in one direction, be mindful of the fact that four come pointing back at those that are making claims."