Community reacts to police Chief Mike Koval’s retirement

City of Madison officials are thanking Mike Koval for his service as chief for the Madison Police Department as they look toward finding a replacement.

Koval announced his retirement in a blog post Sunday morning. He didn’t list a specific reason for his departure, but noted he made the announcement on the Feast Day of Saint Michael, the guardian archangel and his namesake, saying it’s only fitting.

“For you see, I did my best to be a guardian to the community and a guardian to the “guardians”,” he wrote in the post.

Koval is a man of many words, known in part for his vast vocabulary. When it comes to picking the words to describe Koval, writer Doug Moe is up to the task.

“He’s a complex guy,” said Moe, who wrote a profile of Koval for Madison magazine in early 2017. “I enjoyed the interviews tremendously.”

Of the about 4,000 words in his article ‘The Real Mike Koval’, Moe comes back to this.

“He’s a passionate guy,” he said.

He’s passionate about his family and alma mater (“He’s a total Notre Dame nut”) and passionate about policing.

“He knew going in, this was not going to be an easy ride,” Moe said. “I think maybe it may have turned out to be harder than he thought.”

After more than 30 years with the Madison Police Department, many as a recruiting officer and five as police chief, Koval chose his words carefully in his farewell blog post.

Despite the trials, writing that he had been spit on, received death threats and been shot at twice, Koval wrote that he “would not trade the experience for anything.”

Koval elaborated on the positive aspects of his career — everything from giving out happy meals to working toward restorative justice initiatives and addressing addiction, writing, “In short, not everyone can or should pursue the vocation of a police officer, but for those who do, the rewards far exceed the perils and it is a noble calling.”

“It’s a tough job, and in a city that’s very progressive, Koval himself is progressive, but he’s also protecting the protectors,” Moe said. “He’s going to take care of his officers.”

At the time of Moe’s article, racial tensions were high, especially after the black teen Tony Robinson was killed by police in 2015. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne determined the shooting to be justified self-defense.

“I think some people of color in the community felt that what he said was not backed up by the actions of the department,” Moe said.

Also at the time, Koval had been publicly clashing with City Council members over a $400,000 review of the department he had helped build, leading to an outburst at a meeting.

“If he had a fault, if this is even a fault, he tended to take anything with the police department personally,” Moe said.

“I think he was a very good chief,” District 9 City Alder Paul Skidmore said.

Skidmore will be sad to see Koval go, citing his work with neighborhood outreach and devotion to the department.

“He’s poured his heart into service for the city of Madison and public safety for his entire career, and I really wish him well,” Skidmore said.

In a statement, Council President Shiva Bidar wrote that she thanks Koval for his many years of service and looks forward to helping in the search for his replacement.

“This is a very critical position for our City at a time in which we will be receiving and starting to implement the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee on MPD policies, procedures and training,” she wrote.

The UW-Madison Police Department is wishing Koval the best, writing in a Facebook post, “Thank you for your tireless work to keep our community safe, and for your great partnership with UWPD.‬”

The family of Dominic May, a young boy who told Koval he wanted to be a police officer before he was hit and killed by a car, is also thanking Koval for his support after Dominic’s death and foundation in his honor.

“His leadership, dedication, grace, and faith by which he conducted his career touched many lives,” the family wrote in a post. “We can’t thank him enough for the impact he has made on those around him through the years and wish Chief Koval and his family all the best as they begin this exciting new chapter.”

When it comes to writing the story of Koval’s legacy, for Moe, it again comes back one word.

“The passion he brought to it,” Moe said. “I don’t think even his biggest detractors would say he phoned it in.”

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway released a statement Sunday, thanking Koval for his dedication and service, writing that she’ll be working with the Police and Fire Commission, 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.”

The PFC board also thanked Koval for a “successful concluding chapter to his long and distinguished professional career of public service.” In its next meeting Oct. 14, the board will designate a department officer to act as chief during the appointment process.

In the meantime, Assistant Chief Victor Wahl will serve as acting chief.

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