Captain Earnell Lucas to Run for Milwaukee
Following Fate to Service to the
Part 2 of 2
By James A. Gramling Jr.
Lucas was motivated by his grandmother. “She told me I could accomplish anything, but it was important that I
be responsible for my decisions.” She was a loving figure in his life, and he still asks himself whether Granny
would approve of decisions he makes. And he still attends the church she took him to on Sundays, St.
Matthew C.M.E. on North 9th Street.
When Lucas turned 18, Granny — with mission accomplished — moved back to Alabama. He bought a home
after he graduated from high school at Rufus King.
Lucas learned to cook from his grandmother. That’s where the cooking part started. He learned that by taking a
home economics class where he would be one of two boys sharing a room with 24 girls. He liked those odds
and soon was participating in a coop program which placed him at the Marc Plaza Hotel working in the
kitchen. He found that he enjoyed cooking – and still does today — which was a good thing with no older adult
in the house. He worked banquets, staffed the café at the hotel, and is very proud that he prepared meals for
two presidents, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, with Secret Service agents looking over his shoulder the entire
While life as a chef looked inevitable, Lucas took note of the Milwaukee Police Department at a high school Career Day event. A recruiter gave
him his card. He later called the recruiter and was encouraged to test for a police aide job. He didn’t know he passed the test and placed
number one on the eligibility list until two police officers showed up at his door and told him to report to the Academy.
Thus began his 25-year tour of duty, a career which was nearly cut short by a shotgun blast.
On his first day on the job, Lucas got to relive an incident from his 12-year old youth. His grandmother had sent him to the store with $20 and a
note. A cop pulled up to him as he walked down the street and accused him of stealing a woman’s purse. The cop said he’d have to get in the
squad car to go have the woman identify him. Lucas said that was fine but the cop had to drive him back to the store if the woman said that he
hadn’t stolen the purse. The cop drove off, apparently convinced he had the wrong kid. Day 1 on the job, Lucas walked into the 5th District
Station and he encountered the same cop. Had he been soured by the incident? No, Lucas told the cop that the incident had inspired him to
maybe be a cop one day because he appreciated the result when police officers properly exercise discretion.
He was soon transferred to the First District and became one of the first African American officers to patrol the mostly white eastside. And it
was there, not even three years into the job, that a confrontation nearly cost him his life. Lucas and a rookie were on patrol on New Year’s Day
in the area of Farwell and North when they got a call about a loud music complaint. It was outside their squad area but away they went. They
knocked on the door and announced they were cops but the only response was the sound of breaking glass and someone and something
falling. Concerned that someone might be injured they got the door key from the manager and carefully started to open the door. He could see a
man sitting on the floor with a shotgun pointing towards him. He thought of his two-week old daughter and the noon family gathering he was
supposed to attend. A woman walking down the hallway started to pass the door and Lucas reached out to stop her. That is when the man fired.
Lucas was struck with multiple pellets in the head (a dozen are still lodged there today) and fell to his knees bleeding profusely. With no time to
wait for an ambulance he had his partner rush him to the hospital. Other officers responded to the scene and after exchanging fire with the
gunman, they fatally wounded him.
Lucas stayed off the job nearly six months and had time to reflect on his future. He could have retired on duty disability — he would have easily
met the standards at that time — but he decided he had survived for a reason and needed to take advantage of the opportunity. He received a
Heroism Award from the Department and continued his advancement up the ranks. Assignments included work on implementing a new
computer-aided dispatch system and serving as a public information officer in the chief’s office. Overseeing the Third District on the west side,
in addition to putting him in contact with much of Bud Selig’s life, gave Lucas an opportunity to work with diverse neighborhoods and groups,
looking for ways to bridge their differences. He found that maintaining an open door policy allowed him to quickly build support from area
residents. And it was that same commitment to people and their betterment that made him an appealing selection to MLB when they were
looking for a new liaison officer to the Brewers in 1999.
Along the way, Lucas earned a degree in the College of Professional Studies, a weekend program for working professionals at Marquette
University. Not only did he achieve a long-held goal but he also inspired others in his district station to return to school and get their degrees as
The Earnell Lucas Story could very well end here. He has had two extremely interesting, exciting, and productive careers. But there is one more
title he would like to add: Sheriff of Milwaukee County. He recently announced that he would challenge incumbent David Clarke in the fall, 2018
election. He views the Office of Sheriff as a vehicle for public service. His awareness of the need for citizen involvement began with the city’s
riots in 1967 as he witnessed the result of alienation and poverty. “I have an opportunity now to take my experience, education, and judgment to
effect social change. I want to work as a partner with the 19 municipalities in the county to deliver the service our residents deserve. I watched
Bud Selig bring 30 major league teams together to accept what was in the best interests of all. I will follow that example in my work as Sheriff.”
Lucas wants to change the tone coming out of today’s Sheriff’s Office, to lower the rhetoric, and above all to recognize the dignity in each
person dealt with by the department’s deputies. “For example, we need to be more mindful of the treatment of prisoners in our custody. The
recent deaths in the jail show a failure to protect the last ounce of dignity of those prisoners.”
Can Earnell Lucas make the jump from law enforcement to baseball security to County Sheriff? His life’s trajectory certainly points that way. It
would make for a pretty sweet triple play.
For more information about Earnell Lucas’ campaign for Milwaukee County Sheriff, visit https://www.lucasformke.com/ or call 414-214-9665.