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Politics & Government

Milwaukee Lawmakers May Ask State For Help with Violent Criminals

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On Monday, an alderman will introduce a resolution asking state legislators to toughen laws for repeat offenders. Stories of violent crime have frequently been in the news in recent times. Just a few weeks ago, a city of Milwaukee employee was killed while on the job. Gregg Zyszkiewicz was a home inspector. He was fatally shot during an attempted carjacking. Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinski says, for him, that was the last straw.

“We’ve got to do more to get these violent criminals who have a history of violence off of the street,” Zielinski says.

Five people have been arrested in connection with the murder, but Zielinski says the suspects, who range in age from 16 to 21, never should have been on the streets.

“One guy, he had like three or four crimes, one was involving a gun. He also was found guilty of fleeing while on bail. He got bail for another crime and he shouldn’t have been out there. And when you have all five suspects, all five suspects who are implicated in the murder of this city employee have that kind of criminal history and they’re roaming around on the streets, I think that really dramatizes what’s going on in this community,” Zielinski says.

Zielinski says the case of the slain city worker has gotten a lot of attention, but what about the people victimized daily whom we never hear about. He insists it’s time for the state to toughen laws.  State Representative Joe Sanfelippo agrees. Sanfelippo is Republican, a former member of the Milwaukee County Board, and he lives in New Berlin. He has helped author eight bills that Sanfelippo says are designed to protect victims of crime. One would make all carjackings a felony.

“Right now, if you stick a gun in somebody's face and steal their car, you get treated the same way as if you just took the car out of a parking lot and went for a joyride,” Sanfelippo says.

The package of bills would also require the Department of Corrections to recommend revoking parole for more repeat offenders, impose mandatory minimum sentences on all ages, and extend the amount of time the state can hold juveniles convicted of serious crimes in secure facilities.

“The criminal justice system, right now, the way it’s operated for the past decade or so seems to have placed all of their emphasis on rehabilitation and alternative programs. And again, which is a very important part of the whole system, but that’s not the only part. We can’t forget about the victims because all of these crime statistics that we see, those are real people whose lives are shattered and destroyed,” Sanfelippo says.

“That’s a one sided kind of argument.”

Jeffrey Roman is chair of the Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission.

“We cannot talk about on one end the necessity to have harsher penalties for doing bad things, without also talking about the conditions and the environment that young people in communities of color, particularly a number of individuals in our community, the environments and the conditions that they live in,” Roman says. 

Roman says he’d like to see lawmakers and community members work together to get to the root of many problems—a lack of resources; things such as jobs and good schools.

When it comes to the bills before state leaders, Sanfelippo says they are focused on reducing crime, and he has no doubt they will pass the legislation. Only two of the eight bills have bipartisan support.