Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sheriff Clarke Supports Business Partnerships in Public Safety Messages

Milwaukee, WI - On the day the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office issued Homicide by Negligent Operation of a Vehicle charges against a woman for killing a motorcyclist, CBS58 aired a news story questioning a Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office motorcycle safety public service announcement designed to prevent such a tragedy. The irony is too great to ignore.

Unfortunately, this story highlights what passes for “news” today and while I certainly encourage scrutiny of the actions of public officials when warranted, I believe the station in this situation would add public value by placing more emphasis on the preventable injury and killing of too many motorcyclists and other motorists on the roadways in our community. Possessing an FCC license to be on the television airways comes with a responsibility. Local TV news has an obligation to add value to the lives of not only its viewers but to the community as well.

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, June 27, 54-year-old Robert Perkins was simply riding his motorcycle on US45 at Mayfair Road. Without warning, a car slammed into his bike. Upon impact, Mr. Perkins was thrown over the median wall where he fell more than 100 feet to his untimely, tragic and violent death. This was avoidable.

Several months ago a drunk driver was sentenced to eight years in prison for killing a Michigan motorcyclist who was here for the 105th Harley-Davidson celebration. While this may be “old news” to CBS58, it will not be forgotten by us.

CBS58’s airtime would add more value if they spent the time (dedicated to the ad) airing an interview of Robert Perkins’ surviving children. Every day, responsible stations weigh the pros and cons and debate the merit of the stories they air. An interview with the cyclist’s grieving survivors meets a basic litmus test even to a novice like me. I bet most people who saw the CBS58 story cannot even name the law firm that sponsored the safety message.

The facts surrounding the safety message are these: In an attempt to prevent such tragedies, Tony “Pan” Sanfelipo., the founder of ABATE (a motorcycle safety group) asked me to help them promote motorcycle safety awareness. Johnson’s employer, Hupy and Abraham would pay for the announcement. In light of the deaths that already occurred following the warm weather, I welcomed the opportunity. Furthermore, as Milwaukee County faces financial constraints, I opted not to use taxpayer money even though it would have been appropriate to do so.
Instead, I chose to look for innovative ways to pay for these expensive safety messages. As a result, I can then take that money (let’s say a primetime P.S.A. costs $10,000) and put 25 officers on the street for additional enforcement efforts. In law enforcement, it’s called partnering with the business community.

It has always been my belief that local businesses have a responsibility to be good corporate neighbors and give back to the communities they operate in. That’s what responsible and creative public stewards do -- work with people. It’s called making taxpayer money go farther to improve public safety. I’m always in support of any public service effort that, in my opinion, promotes a legitimate public safety issue. My job is to do everything I can to keep the citizens of this county as safe.

I’ll ask CBS58 to sponsor a :30 ad on roadway safety and let you know what their response is.

And no, I wasn’t paid for the public service announcement.

Stay Safe,

Sheriff Clarke
Milwaukee County

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