A UW-Madison Police Department captain took thousands of photos and videos of unsuspecting women over more than six years before he was fired in March, according to an internal investigation, and could face criminal charges.

Capt. Peter Ystenes, a 17-year veteran of the department and head of its detectives unit before he was fired March 12, also used a work laptop to download and view pornography, UW Police Chief Sue Riseling said.

According to a termination letter obtained by the State Journal on Tuesday, Ystenes used department cameras to take pictures of co-workers from under tables, and of women walking on the sidewalk outside his office.

In other instances, Ystenes (IST-ness) followed and photographed women in stores with a department-issued cellphone, the investigation found.

“All of these were without the apparent knowledge of those who were photographed or recorded,” Riseling said.

Investigators are now working with women Ystenes is accused of photographing to let them know about the pictures, and find out if they want to pursue criminal charges, UW police spokesman Marc Lovicott said Tuesday.

Ystenes was fired for violating work rules relating to poor judgment and the improper use of university property, Riseling said in the termination letter.

“Your six-plus year pattern of behavior fundamentally violated the trust that the department, the university and community placed in you,” Riseling wrote to Ystenes. “The repeated nature of your actions signals this was no accident, no mistake but instead is a series of repeated intentional acts on your part.”

Led detectives

Ystenes oversaw the department’s detectives as captain of its Investigative Services Unit — the division responsible for investigating crimes such as sexual assaults on campus, Lovicott said.

Lovicott said it was a concern that public trust in the department could be undermined by the head of the unit taking photos of women without their consent.

“That’s one of the reasons why our chief took such swift action in his termination,” Lovicott said.

Ystenes did not share the photos with anyone or post them online, Lovicott said. But his photographs and videos fit the mold of what’s known as “creep shots” — images of women taken without their knowledge or consent, often in public spaces, and routinely shared online.

Investigators said they “received information” in late January that Ystenes had been improperly using university equipment, according to the letter. Retired Assistant Chief Dale Burke led the investigation.

Riseling originally considered allowing Ystenes to resign from the department, she wrote in the termination letter.

But given the “significant collateral harm” he caused, Riseling said, she decided to fire him.

Criminal charges possible

The women Ystenes photographed included UW police officers, co-workers within the department, other university employees and “women in the community,” according to the letter. Some of the pictures and video were taken inside the department’s Monroe Street headquarters, investigators found.

Lovicott did not know if any students were photographed.

All of the women he photographed were clothed, investigators said.

The number of people Ystenes took pictures and video of over the years has made it challenging for authorities to inform everyone affected, Lovicott said.

“Our department’s been working very hard on that,” Lovicott said.

The Dane County Sheriff’s Office is assisting UW police with the investigation.

Lovicott was not aware of any victims who had asked to press charges so far.

The Dane County District Attorney’s Office would decide what, if any, charges Ystenes would face.

District Attorney Ismael Ozanne declined to comment on the case, noting the investigation was ongoing. But speaking generally he said these kinds of cases can result in disorderly conduct charges. Any other charges would depend on factors unique to the case, Ozanne said.

Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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