GPS systems installed on Milwaukee Police squad cars to help dispatchers track officers’ whereabouts have recently been found covered with foil, rendering them useless and the cars invisible to monitoring. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:
A Milwaukee police captain was walking through the District 7 garage over the summer when he noticed something wasn’t right about the satellite tracking antenna on the back of a squad car.
A closer look revealed that the small square global positioning system antenna was wrapped in aluminum foil.
Capt. Donald Gaglione called the radio shop and confirmed what he suspected: Foil disables the expensive GPS, essentially making the car invisible to dispatchers.
A check revealed that an antenna on a second car also was wrapped in foil. Gaglione ordered that every car be checked at the start of every shift and during patrols, according to department e-mails obtained by the Journal Sentinel under the state open records law.
Deputy Chief Dale Schunk, in charge of the patrol division, responded quickly.
“This sabotage of our equipment will not be tolerated,” Schunk wrote in an e-mail to all his commanders. He ordered that every district begin checks and that he be personally notified of other incidents.
The GPS trackers are part of an $18 million radio and communications upgrade the department has been installing since 2004. The department has added the GPS systems on about 25% of the department’s roughly 650 squad cars.
Dispatchers use the system to track the location of squad cars so they can send them more quickly to calls and to rush help if an officer is down.
Officers have quietly talked about GPS being used as a way for internal investigators to build cases against them. Assistant Chief Leslie Barber was fired two years ago after investigators put a GPS on his car and found that he was living outside Milwaukee.
Department officials downplayed the foil incident as a one-time problem that hasn’t resurfaced. Chief Nannette Hegerty called it a “non-issue.”
Asked why an officer might disable the device, Hegerty said, “I don’t know. Don’t ask me why some of the officers do what they do.”
Aldermen reacted with outrage.
“Are you serious? Officers are doing it themselves?” Common Council President Willie Hines said. “It is ridiculous incidents like this that bring the entire department under fire. . . . That is what you expect of kids, very immature kids.”
Ald. Joe Davis said the incident shows the need for the Fire and Police Commission, which received two investigators in the most recent budget, to closely monitor police.
“This type of act by law enforcement is unconscionable,” Davis said. “When we are looking for truth and integrity, what we are getting is unethical behavior.”
My friends in discourse analysis would have a field day with this, noting how resistance to workplace surveillance is considered “sabotage” and “unethical.”
I’m heading to Milwaukee today for the Thanksgiving holiday. I’ll drop off some extra tin foil at the local precinct…