“Eyes in the Sky” Aid Investigations in Cities Large & Small


Surveillance—particularly security cameras, traffic cams, and squad car traffic video—increasingly plays a role in criminal investigations. One recent example is the Christmas Eve homicide of on-duty Wauwatosa Police Officer Jennifer Sebena.

Officer Sebena, known as “Jen” to her colleagues and friends, failed to respond to a 4:24 a.m. call from her dispatcher. Since squad cars at the Tosa PD are equipped with GPS location finders, the Com Center instantly knew the whereabouts of Sebena’s marked patrol vehicle and sent another officer to check on her welfare. Just four minutes later, the responding officer found Sebena shot-to-death just outside a Wauwatosa fire station, located at 1601 Underwood Avenue.

An agent from the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation observed four expended shell casings at the scene—one from a 9 mm handgun and the other three from a .40 handgun, consistent with the on-duty firearm carried by Jennifer Sebena, whose pistol was missing from her unsnapped holster.

As is the case in many non-officer homicides, investigators immediately turned their attention to the slain officer’s 30-year-old husband, Benjamin Sebena.  Two weeks earlier, Jennifer Sebena told another police officer that her husband had pointed a gun at her head. With this information in hand, detectives focused on surveillance video near the Sebenas’ suburban Menomonee Falls home, as well as the thoroughfares to-and-from the crime scene in the trendy village area of Wauwatosa.

According to the criminal complaint, detectives from the Wauwatosa PD gained access to surveillance video from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Statewide Traffic Operations Center—an Orwellian-type facility with access to the stored data from hundreds of surveillance cameras.  From a camera mounted on the top of a traffic pole at N. 108th and W. Burleigh Streets, investigators observed a black Toyota Prius with black tire rims traveling westbound on W. Burleigh at 3:45 a.m.—about 35 minutes prior to Officer Sebena’s body being located outside the Tosa fire station just over four miles away. A minute later, the same vehicle was observed on video moving northbound on Hwy. 45 from W. Burleigh Street en route to the Sebena residence. The black Prius matched the description of the vehicle Benjamin Sebena drove to the Wauwatosa PD less than three hours later.

Two days later, Wauwatosa PD Detective Jeff Griffin—watching video from the BP gas station just blocks from the Sebena residence—observed what appeared to be the same black Prius moving south on Appleton Ave. at 1:35 a.m. on December 24.

With this video evidence in hand, detectives could firmly establish an investigative timeline.  Moreover, sources say that, during the interrogation, this video played a key role in obtaining a confession. After detectives informed Benjamin Sebena about the video showing the route of his vehicle, they led the suspect to believe that the shooting was captured, in part, by surveillance cameras near the fire station, even though no such evidence actually exists.

As Judge Andrew Napolitano correctly notes in his book Constitutional Chaos, while it is unlawful for citizens to lie to law enforcement officers during the performance of their duties, the courts have ruled that it is perfectly lawful for law enforcement officers to lie to members of the public in order to obtain incriminating statements.

And the use of surveillance cameras are not limited to large cities or high-profile murder investigations. In the small, southwestern Wisconsin city of Platteville, police have access to three cameras, some of which are disguised as simple street lights.


These “Eyes in the Sky” allow the Platteville PD to enforce quality of life issues, like public urination and vandalism.

While the video in Platteville is typically stored for 30 to 60 days, sources say that data obtained from traffic cams by the Wisconsin DOT’s Statewide Operations Center can be retained for up to 10 years.

Like it or not, as George Orwell said, “Big Brother is watching.”


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. His latest book, Best of the Spingola Files, Vol. II: Here’s Looking at You, is available at Amazon.com.


If your group is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files’ Psychology of Homicide presentation.  For more information, please visit:


© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2012

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>