Sheriff David Clarke's Comments
The following is a transcript of remarks made by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke to the 25th anniversary celebration of the Froedtert Volunteer Associates at the Milwaukee Hilton City Center on Oct. 18, 2011.
Today I have the opportunity to spend a few moments doing something I relish. I have the chance to speak on a topic that brings out the passion in me every time.
It is not, as you may expect, law enforcement. No, I’ll be speaking about the safety of children as they transition from adolescence to adulthood; and from bicycles and skateboards, to thousand-pound automobiles.
I have spent my adult life in law enforcement. 33 years, split between my responsibilities with the Milwaukee Police Department and the privilege of leading the Sheriff’s Office here in Milwaukee County.
Of all the things that one can do with a life, this is what I chose: To serve others, prevent crime, and pursue justice for the victims left in a criminal’s wake. I am pleased to advocate for the return to our great society, of the life that so many of you in this room are leading … the life of the servant leader.
Today we share fellowship, and voice our personal commitment and financial support to Froedtert Volunteer Associates during their 25th Anniversary.
Volunteerism is no less than a sacred responsibility owed, one-to-another, by virtue of our commonality.
And I enjoy good company in this belief. Woodrow Wilson, our 28th President and the architect of the global influence of our great society, offered that:
“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget that errand”.
I wonder if there are too many among us who would choose to simplify the world to categories: Tea Party members versus Wall Street occupiers. Have some forgotten the simple truth behind Wilson’s words, and of what it means to work towards “…a finer spirit of hope and achievement.”
Those who cherish volunteerism have not forgotten.
You know, President Wilson was an interesting man. The son of a minister, he earned his doctorate in law before joining Princeton as a professor of political economy. He rose to hold Princeton’s presidency, using that platform to enact reforms in education, in pursuit of a more democratically chosen, but still intellectually driven, student body than he had previously seen.
Wilson was a reformer who focused his efforts as both a governor and a president, on achieving an idealized version of what life may hold under the blessing of American democracy.
But history intervened in the form of a Great War, a World War, and the attention of this man of knowledge was turned to war. His initial efforts towards neutrality ceded when the issue of freedom of the seas compelled a decisive change. Wilson had found an issue upon which he could not, as a servant of the American people, couch compromise. Instead, he mobilized a nation -- manpower, industry, commerce, and agriculture, towards a world in which justice and peace could flourish. For his efforts, he received the Nobel Peace prize of 1919.
We need more Woodrow Wilsons. Our modern lives are full of paradox:
Ensuring basic freedoms, while maintaining homeland security. Offering a helping hand, while maintaining the value of independence. Limiting the size and cost of government, while providing needed services to those whose quality of life is connected to it.
These issues call for the skills of Wilson, and more. They call for everyday citizens to get involved. Really involved. And volunteers do just that.
President Wilson was able to find ways to intersect his passion and his profession. Those in government enjoy this privilege. But those in the private sector also find similar opportunities in organizations such as the Froedtert Volunteer Associates.
The beneficiary of their fundraising focus, as selected by their Board of Directors, merges my profession, public safety, with the passion of so many: keeping our teens safe from the great threat of an untimely death by automobile.
"Forever Changed: Saving the Lives of Our Youth Through Education”, a cooperative venture with the Froedtert Hospital trauma staff, is a full-scale simulated car crash complete with Flight for Life, local emergency responders and the medical examiner.
This high impact program allows students to witness the tragedy that is associated with crashes resulting from high-risk driving behaviors.
In the life of teens, two birthdays carry great significance. The first is 16, which brings the independence of a driver's license. The second birthday of significance is 18, when they become responsible for themselves. The key, and in this I remind you that I am speaking with the voice of 33 years surveying the wreckage that the mistakes of youth and inexperience visit upon teens, is to encourage young people to approach their newfound freedoms with moderation and the wisdom handed down from a healthy upbringing.
And nowhere is this more important than in driving behaviors, because driving demands responsibilities and choices. Some that, tragically, last forever.
Last year, this reality reverberated throughout our community when a deadly rollover crash in the stadium interchange killed Sydney Tabakin, a high schooler from Mequon. Two other teens, including the driver, Madeleine Kudlata, had their lives altered after Kudlata lost control and rolled her SUV. Sydney Tabakin had been riding in the back seat without a seat belt, and died at the scene.
This past spring, Kudlata pleaded No Contest to Homicide by Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle, as a result of her driving too fast for conditions, having an open container of alcohol in her car, and marijuana in her system. Two injured; one dead; and three lives shattered, one irretrievably.
My agency is data driven. We go where the numbers tell us we should apply our resources and choose strategies that are effective, rapidly deployed, and relentlessly assessed for success or adjustment.
The data states it clearly: In 2010, as in every year, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for more than one in three deaths in this age group.
Based on both their inexperience, and the choices they make in their driving and personal life, per mile driven, teen drivers are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.
Who is most at risk? That answer hasn’t changed in any of our lives, and is very intuitive, if you simply cast your minds back to your own experiences. The death rate for adolescent male drivers and passengers is almost two times that of their female counterparts.
Here in Milwaukee County, my office has the privilege of serving as the primary law enforcement agency on our interstate expressway. We look at trends and devise interventions. And while many of the trends we see bear out our suspicions, a few surprise us.
Drunken driving crashes fill the headlines, and put all of us at risk. But the greatest risk to a teen driver is between the hours of 4 and 7 p.m.; from right after they get out of school until traffic volume subsides. We live in a winter environment in Wisconsin, and all know how challenging winter driving can be. But the deadliest months for teen drivers, and it isn’t even close, are August and June, when the open road and peer pressures, intersect with the freedom of summer nights. The deadliest spots for teen drivers are not at intersections, where traffic crosses …No, by a 2-to-1 margin more teens die on our major roadways and highways, where distracted driving, speed and volume leave little room for error.
Teens are more likely to underestimate dangerous situations, and to speed and allow shorter distances between vehicles. Among teen drivers who are involved in fatal crashes 37 percent were speeding at the time of the crash, and 26 percent had been drinking, often to a disturbing degree.
In 2009, 25 percent of teen drivers who died in crashes had an alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. And distracted driving, the now famous “texting while driving” phenomenon, accounts for 14 percent of all teen crashes in Wisconsin.
That’s the bad news … Now, for some good news … When pondering how deaths and injuries involving teen drivers may be prevented, the three primary methods are already at work here in Wisconsin. Comprehensive graduated driver licensing programs, are associated with reductions of 38 percent and 40 percent in fatal and injury crashes, respectively, among 16-year-old drivers.
Wisconsin's GDL law went into effect in 2000 and gives new drivers a safer start to their driving career by mandating more practice time behind the wheel before getting a license, restricting teen drivers from being on the road during late night hours, and limiting the number of passengers who ride with teen drivers. These efforts delay full licensure while allowing teens to get their initial experience under low-risk conditions.
The second preventative measure to this at-risk group is the subject of today’s fundraising effort: Education. Programs such as “Forever Changed” expose teens to the deadly results of risky behaviors while driving, when peer pressure or status, or inexperience leads them to engage in behavior that takes their focus off the road.
This program, targeted to the right audience and conducted at high schools each spring and fall around prom and homecoming, allows students to see the horror and devastation that my officers see weekly. The value, of tying crashes to driving behaviors, forces students to see and perhaps link the responsibility they have when operating a vehicle, and how their decisions affect the outcome. I trust that you will find it within you to support this effort, generously.
Sadly, but thankfully, the third measure that will affect this at-risk group is the presence of a Level One Trauma Center within close proximity to the scene of a crash. A Level One center, such as Froedtert, provides the highest level of surgical care to trauma patients. It has a full range of specialists and equipment available around the clock, and is required to have a set number of surgeons and emergency physicians on duty at all times in specialties such as orthopaedic surgery, neurosurgery, plastic surgery, anesthesiology, and critical care. Additionally, a Level One Center must maintain programs of research, education and injury prevention, including outreach programs such as “Forever Changed.”
So important is the presence of a Level One Trauma Center to a community that Stanford University has determined that being treated at a Level One Center increases a seriously injured patient’s chances of survival by 20 percent to 25 percent. Having Froedtert within our community is a regional treasure that I expect many take for granted. I, as Sheriff, do not.
I opened my remarks this morning with the words of President Wilson. I close with the words of one of my great childhood heroes.
Muhammad Ali grew up in 1950s Kentucky, experiencing firsthand the discrimination of that era. At the age of 12, he discovered boxing through an odd twist. When his bike was stolen, Ali told a Louisville police officer that he wanted to beat up the thief. The officer, who trained young boxers, told Ali that he had better learn how to fight before he started challenging people. Ali started training with the officer and went on to win the U.S .Golden Gloves Championship, the Amateur Athletic Union's national title, Olympic Gold and the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Along his path he attained not only a level of worldwide adulation that few have known, but a sterling reputation as a man dedicated to both his goals, and his beliefs. In a 1978 interview with Time magazine, “The Greatest,” as Ali was then known, reflected that, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth." He confirmed, in that simple sentence, a truth that we all know: We are, in fact, our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
Ali also cleared up one more bit of business, about his nickname, “The Greatest.” “I'm not the Greatest,” he said. “I'm the double greatest. Not only do I knock 'em out, but I predict the round.”
Continued good fortune and safety to you all. Thank you for your attention and may God continue to bless each and every one of you.