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Drone log lights up Milwaukee sheriff’s eyes in the sky

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The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) provided the Wisconsin Examiner with a log detailing the activities of its drone unit. Since the now eight-man unit was announced last year, a full account of its activities has yet to be made public. Detailing more than 20 days of flying, the log includes flight locations, purpose and drone used by the office. The journal was provided through open records requests to MCSO.

In March 2021, the unit’s first commanding officer, then Sergeant Andrew Bilda, outlined the MCSO’s vision for the use of drones. “We want to make sure we’re doing everything right, protecting citizens’ rights as well as protecting the sheriff’s office,” Bilda said. He welcomed the prospect of increasing “officer safety by using drones to map crime scenes, accident scenes, and provide an all-encompassing aerial view of a developing incident in real time.”

A Milwaukee County Sheriff’s drone pilot as he flies a drone around the room. Behind it is a drone camera display and a heads-up display. (Picture | Isiah Holmes)

The unit started with two DGI Mavic drones, one equipped with forward-looking infrared (FLIR). Each unit costs $400. MCSO’s Drone Log lists four categories of drones, including “Visual Observer”, “Enterprise Dual”, “Enterprise Zoom”, and “Mavic Mini 2”. Bilda is among the drone pilots along with Dillion Kelley, Chad Olszewski, Timothy Kraklow, Noel Ybarra Jr., Rebecca Ehrmann, Anthony Galewski and Fred Gayle.

Aside from periodic training days, the drones have been used for a variety of purposes. According to the newspaper, the first time the drones were used in the field was on February 25, 2021. Kelley and Ybarra Jr. were pilots that day, with the flight recorded as a “drone deployment in support possible protests/civil unrest”. The robbery took place at the Milwaukee County Courthouse at 901 N. 9th St.

Milwaukee County Sheriff’s drone flight log. From December 14, 2020 to December 14, 2021.

In court proceedings followed by a large public rally that day, civil rights attorney Kimberley Motley described the involvement of Wauwatosa detectives in the investigation into the 2016 shooting of Jay Anderson involving their own department. (State law prohibits police departments from participating in investigations of shootings involving one of their own officers.) Many local activists, people who had protested in 2020, and family supporters of Anderson attended the court proceedings.

Linda Anderson, mother of Jay Anderson Jr, and attorney Kimberley Motley speak to the media after the hearing.  (Picture | Isiah Holmes)
Linda Anderson, mother of Jay Anderson Jr, and attorney Kimberley Motley speak to the media after John Doe’s final court hearing. (Picture | Isiah Holmes)

No incidents of violence or destruction of property occurred during John Doe’s hearings, even in June, after it was announced that no charges would be brought against Mensah, who is now employed by the Department of sheriff of Waukesha. At times, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Glenn Yamahirro discouraged the cheers and other noise from the gallery. Another courthouse drone flight took place on March 3, 2021 when protesters, many of them from the People’s Revolution (TPR), gathered for a small protest outside the courthouse.

Kelley was also a pilot for a flight on April 2, 2021. With 19 flights in the 2020-2021 year, including seven on field missions, Kelley stands as the most experienced drone pilot in MCSO . The April 2 flight was an emergency deployment involving a vehicle chase and a foot chase in Menomonee Falls.

The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office drone in flight.  (Picture | Isiah Holmes)
The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office drone in flight. (Picture | Isiah Holmes)

Next comes a mission to search for an intoxicated person, who may have been in the grass of the freeway ramp. That same day, May 19, 2021, Sgt. Bilda and Pilot Olszewski took drones over Gordon Park in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee. A shooting incident was reported in the park. Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) cellphone tracking technology also documented its use the same day for a shooting.

The role of policing in our society has come under the microscope since the Minneapolis Police Department’s murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Local Policing is an ongoing series analyzing the culture, tactics, and actions of departments, major and small, from Wisconsin. If you have a story to share about your local police, contact reporters Isiah Holmes and Henry Redman at [email protected] and [email protected]

Olszewski flew again on July 19, 2021 to help the West Allis Police Department “clear the dollar store roof.” The flight was noted as “authorized by Sgt. Bilda. The following day, pilots Olszewksi, Kraklow and Ybarra Jr. flew in support of Milwaukee PD in the NBA Finals. On July 31, Kelley recorded a flight to follow a vehicle chase in Brookfield and to help search for the suspect after the vehicle crashed.Nearly a month later, on August 27, 2021, Kelley again flew over a People’s Revolution protest.This time , it was in Sherman Park, the site of the 2016 unrest sparked after the murder of 23-year-old Syville Smith by a Milwaukee officer.Unlike courthouse missions, this drone log only reads “at the support of the protest” and does not mention civil unrest.

Kelley then searched for an armed Franklin suspect after a vehicle chase in September. Then came an overview of a standoff involving MPD on the highway in October. Kelley again assisted MPD in a search and rescue mission for a missing person on the Oak Leaf Trail in early November 2021. This was the last documented field flight in 2021. MPD also has its own drones. At least some of MPD’s drones are deployed from large white or black surveillance vans that the department calls “critical response vehicles.”

When the drone unit was first announced, Bilda explained how the drone can be used. Although the sergeant spoke at length about its usefulness in monitoring traffic and documenting accident scenes, he noted its use in monitoring crowds as MCSO looked for other ways to monitor protesters who might try to step on the streets. highways. Bilda also noted the use of technology to search for missing persons and fugitive suspects.

The demonstration of August 27, 2021. (Photo | Lux Photography)
The demonstration of August 27, 2021. (Photo | Lux Photography)

Milwaukee County Supervisor Ryan Clancy criticized the MCSO’s activities. “It’s disturbing,” Clancy told the Wisconsin Examiner. “If you look at about last year with the sheriff’s department, when they were running a huge deficit, [they] proposed and found funding for an eight-person drone team, when the county already had an existing drone team under the Office of Emergency Management.

The Office of Emergency Management, in fact, flew drones over protests in the summer of 2020. Clancy fears the sheriff’s office has become “almost totally irresponsible to the public” and “extremely opaque”. He said the office “has very little budget transparency. They often refuse to answer questions about how they spend their money and how they monitor people.

The demonstration of August 27, 2021. (Photo | Lux Photography)
The demonstration of August 27, 2021. (Photo | Lux Photography)

Some of Clancy’s requests to the office regarding racial equity, for example, were denied. “We’re not the Legislative Budget Office, we’re not going to provide you with that information,” he said. He added: “It’s disturbing to see law enforcement on the one hand refusing to be transparent and then constantly finding ways to monitor the public and not tell us about it.”

Clancy adds, “If they think it’s effective, then they should provide that data.” Nonetheless, as Clancy said in a recent Examiner article on surveillance, “these are global conversations that we should be having before they deploy these technologies. Not afterwards. And it’s frustrating that they seem to think they don’t need buy-in from elected officials or the general public before taking these really important steps.

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