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Rep. Joe Sanfelippo: The Other Epidemic Threatening Wisconsin

Within the span of weeks, the spread of the novel coronavirus disease reached epidemic proportions, disrupting every aspect of our lives. Previously unheard-of concepts like social distancing and curve flattening suddenly consumed our collective attention. While we continue to rightly take sweeping action and dedicate unprecedented resources to addressing the threats from COVID-19, the dangers posed by the ongoing and worsening crime epidemic are not receiving commensurate scrutiny.

In Milwaukee, homicides have increased at a truly alarming pace, with the city already having nearly surpassed its murder count for all of 2019 in a little over half a year, backsliding to a level not seen in decades. Last week, five people were shot and killed in less than one day. In Madison, two more shooting deaths last week have similarly pushed the city well past its previous year’s murder count.
The impact of the coronavirus outbreak has undoubtedly shaped this uptick: as individuals are confined to their homes, we tragically see more instances of domestic violence, with murders of family members and intimate partners more than doubling their share of Milwaukee homicides, accounting for an unconscionable 35% of all murders.

To be sure, this is not a problem that is unique to Wisconsin: around the United States, homicide and gun violence rates are spiking, with cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and Atlanta suffering from dramatic increases in their murder rates. Over the July 4th holiday weekend alone, those four cities saw 199 shootings lead to 37 deaths, with at least 6 children shot and killed. These tragic, unnecessary deaths only serve to compound the already unbearable number of lives lost to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.

Over the past few months, crime and criminal justice issues have become central to our lives, yet little concrete action has been taken by our state government. We have seen the problem of violent crime growing; at the same time, people throughout Wisconsin and the nation have demanded increased accountability from law enforcement.

Earlier this year, my Republican colleagues and I introduced a set of proposals that provided a broad set of solutions to repairing our criminal justice system. These included bills aimed at protecting domestic violence victims; strengthening our gun laws; increasing accountability and transparency into the actions of prosecutors and judges; making it harder for repeat offenders to slip through the cracks; and ensuring the safety of witnesses who come forward to testify. Unfortunately, our counterparts on the other side of the aisle largely opposed these common-sense measures, with Governor Evers vetoing many of them. Moreover, many Democrats have even misguidedly called for de-funding our police departments at a time when they are needed most.

I believe that ensuring the safety of our citizens is our government’s paramount responsibility. However, we have clearly not done enough. We need to work towards providing our law enforcement officers with the resources they need to do the difficult jobs we ask of them. We can do this while at the same time expecting true accountability and transparency from our police departments. I am confident that, if we work together, there is a clear path forward towards a better Wisconsin, one that ensures both the safety of our communities and protects the well-being and dignity of every one of our citizens.