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Former Madison Police Chief Says Political Frustrations Led To Retirement

Mike Koval Faced Criticism Throughout His 5-Year Tenure

Mike Koval
Scott Bauer/AP Photo

Activists in Madison are looking towards the future of the city’s police department now that former Police Chief Michael Koval has retired.

Koval announced his retirement suddenly on Sunday in a blog post that looked back on his decades as a police officer and his five years as the city’s police chief.

During his tenure, the department faced strong criticism, especially for officers’ use of force. In 2015, an officer shot and killed Tony Robinson, a black teenager, in a case that sparked protests in Madison and attracted national media attention. Koval himself was found guilty of misconduct, but wasn’t punished for calling Robinson’s grandmother a “raging lunatic.” More recently, an external investigation found Madison officers’ conduct legal but questionable when they used force against a black teen in the midst of a mental health crisis.

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In his blog post, Koval asked community members to blame him, not his officers, for any mistakes.

“MPD is trying, with a sense of urgency and purpose, to earn your trust and to work cooperatively in addressing the issues of our day,” Koval wrote. “I am sorry if I said or did anything which caused you to question these motives or the authentic desires of MPD to be relational partners in moving forward.”

Even so, he called his detractors “haters” and accused them of bullying.

“I have made a career of fighting for the underdog and I was able to hang on much longer than I had originally planned (or that you had hoped) :)!” he wrote.

Amelia Royko Maurer, a safe policing advocate in Madison, takes issue with calling critics “haters” and said she hopes the city’s next chief will think of them differently.

“I think having a police department and a police chief that sees the community and community input and disagreement and challenge as an asset, rather than hatred and a threat, would be optimal,” she said.

Royko Maurer is a founding member of the Community Response Team, a police policy advocacy group that formed after her friend Paul Heenan was shot and killed by a Madison police officer. She strongly criticized Koval for what she sees as his reluctance to accept outside input and work with the community.

Koval said in an interview he’s open to civilian oversight, like the police auditor recommended by a recent ad hoc committee on police policy.

When asked why he decided to retire so suddenly, Koval expressed frustration about the city budget process. He said he wants more officers for the department, but felt he wouldn’t get them and he didn’t want his famously blunt style to get in the way of the negotiations.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps I’m the problem. Perhaps I’m the square peg trying to fit into a round hole,” Koval said.

He said wants his successor to maintain their independence from the political aspects of the job.

“My only hope is that the person who’s picked doesn’t become unwittingly a puppet, a lapdog, a bobblehead to the political interests of their day or the mayor and the (Common) Council,” he said.

Koval, who has a law degree, said one of his proudest achievements in his various roles at the Madison Police Department was his law education class, where he sought to teach officers to be objective fact-finders, not the tools of prosecutors.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway released a statement thanking Koval for his service and looking ahead to the Police and Fire Commission’s selection of a replacement.

“I have spoken to the head of the Police and Fire Commission and will be working with the PFC to organize the search for a new Chief of Police, and will be urging them to conduct a process in which members of the department and members of the community have significant input into the kind of police chief they wish to lead the Madison Police Department into the future,” she wrote.

Assistant Chief Victor Wahl will lead the department until an interim chief is named.

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