Denita Ball, Brian Barkow, Thomas Beal are the candidates in the Milwaukee County Sheriff's race to succeed Earnell Lucas

·4 min read

With Sheriff Earnell Lucas' tenure winding down, three veterans of the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office will face off in an Aug. 9 primary for sheriff.

Chief Deputy Denita Ball, Inspector and Commander of the Investigative Services Bureau Brian Barkow and sheriff's Capt. Thomas Beal all made a June 1 deadline to register for the race, file for candidacy and submit their nomination paper signatures. With no Republicans on the ballot the Democratic primary will effectively choose the next sheriff.

Lucas announced he would not be seeking reelection following a disappointing fifth-place finish in Milwaukee's primary election for the city's next mayor. During Lucas's campaign for mayor, the Milwaukee area had reached record-breaking levels of violence and crime and was a growing concern for residents.

To date, those numbers continue to increase as Milwaukee experienced three high-coverage shootings that left 21 people injured following a Bucks playoff game in May.

Milwaukee County Sheriff candidates, from left, Chief Deputy Denita Ball, Inspector and Commander of the Investigative Services Bureau Brian Barkow and sheriff's Capt. Thomas Beal will square off in an Aug. 9 primary.
Milwaukee County Sheriff candidates, from left, Chief Deputy Denita Ball, Inspector and Commander of the Investigative Services Bureau Brian Barkow and sheriff's Capt. Thomas Beal will square off in an Aug. 9 primary.

Denita Ball wants to repair relationships between Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office and community 

Ball said she plans to employ new tactics to tackle the violence that has shaken the county, including increasing patrols in parks, on freeways and county roads, and finding more effective ways to address gun and gang violence.

"We must work together to find a solution," she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Failure is not an option."

Ball aims to earn the public's trust and repair the department's fractured relationship with members of the Milwaukee community.

Milwaukee County Chief Deputy Sheriff Denita Ball will run as a Democrat for sheriff this fall.
Milwaukee County Chief Deputy Sheriff Denita Ball will run as a Democrat for sheriff this fall.

Ball, who had been appointed by Lucas as chief deputy in 2018 and was also a finalist for Milwaukee police chief in 2007, is the highest-ranking woman in the history of the Sheriff's Department.

Brian Barkow wants more funds for Sheriff's Office

For Barkow, the role of sheriff is not a "retirement job." In fact, he wants to hit the ground running, if elected this November.

He has pledged to foster better departmental transparency, create a Community Advisory Council consisting of countywide advocacy, faith and legal representatives to discuss public safety policy and operations, as well as expand partnerships with local police agencies to address violent crime and reckless driving.

"While I respect my opponents’ service to our community, they are either status-quo bureaucrats holding the agency back from innovation, or else they lack the leadership experience to guide an agency of over 600 employees with a budget of nearly $50 million," he said.

Brian Barkow, inspector and commander of the investigative services for the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office.
Brian Barkow, inspector and commander of the investigative services for the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office.

The department has faced many fiscal challenges and has come under fire most notably by the Milwaukee County Board in recent weeks as the Sheriff's Office projected a $4.6 million overtime deficit. This comes as staffing at the Milwaukee County Jail hit an all-time low, with a vacancy rate at 48% as of May.

While Barkow wants to be more financially responsible and build close working relationships with the County Board and County Executive David Crowley, he intends to justify allocating more funds to the Sheriff's Office.

"I will never shrink from defending the good work of the Sheriff’s Office when it comes under unfair attack from elected officials with ulterior political motives," he said.

In a last-ditch effort to make it onto the Aug. 9 ballot, Barkow had to submit more signatures after falling short of the 500 minimum ahead of the deadline.

Thomas Beal's goal is to improve recruitment, retention

To tackle issues around reckless driving, car thefts, violence and poor conditions at the County Jail, Beal wants to take the approach of first working on the basics: staffing and education of employees and officers.

Milwaukee County Sheriff's Capt. Thomas Beal
Milwaukee County Sheriff's Capt. Thomas Beal

His goal is to improve recruitment and the retention of employees across the department by negotiating with the County Board to increase wages and create incentives for individuals who want to get into law enforcement.

Beal said the key to the department's success in bridging the gap between officers and the community relies on educating officers on diversity and inclusion while at the academy and holding staff accountable when they misstep.

"It's going to be a hard road, but it can be done," he said. "But to start building trust with the community, we have to start showing that we don't have that blue line of silence."

"We have to show that we will hold our people accountable, the same as we'll hold an offender accountable," he said.

Beal criticized his opponents, suggesting they could have done more in their positions thus far.

"They're very good people," he said. "However, they both have had the opportunity to actually make the changes that they're saying that they want to make as sheriff."

Barkow and Ball both disputed Beal's claim.

Over the last 25 years, Beal has had experience with every division of the agency, including working under cover, patrol and investigating employee work rule violations. He currently serves as a commander at the Milwaukee County Jail.

Contact Vanessa Swales at 414-308-5881 or vswales@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @Vanessa_Swales.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee County Sheriff's candidates to face off in August 9 primary