Koval, common council at odds over $400K study of police department
Madison police Chief Mike Koval wrote a blog post Sunday night criticizing Madison Common Council members over a proposal to review the policies and practices of his department.
In the blog post, titled “A Report Card for $400k? What’s Important NOW (W.I.N)?!” Koval said he has no issue with the idea of looking into the department’s policies and practices, but does have an issue with its cost. Koval said the proposal will cost the city $400,000, which is money he said would be better spent elsewhere.
“When not-for-profits and community leaders and activists are begging and bemoaning funding for engagement initiatives that are urgently needed, the city is marching forward demanding a total of $400,000 to get a report card on MPD,” Koval wrote. “Heck! Why stop there? Why don’t we double that amount? For a city that claims to be on brink of fiscal ruin, if this is so damn urgent and this Department is spiraling out of control, then money should be of no object!”
In the post, Koval touted the department as a model agency.
“You tell us the cupboard is bare and there is no money for anything,” Koval wrote. “But the city will go into their financial reserve fund for $400,000 for an assessment of a department that has been recognized by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) as a shining light of progressive community based policing?!?! Can’t wait to see how this plays out!”
Koval also said he believes the council is catering to a small minority of citizens; namely, those who protest the department at council meetings and in other venues.
“The ‘perpetually offended’ of Madison who use their small but vocal numbers to dictate agendas has an incredible grip on this city,” he wrote. “No one dares to raise a voice lest they be marginalized in the PC world of Madison.”
In the post, the chief fired off a warning to alders.
“To the Common Council: You are being watched. And be on notice: this is a pre-emptive first strike from me to you,” the post said. “I am going to push back hard when MPD is constantly used as a political punching bag and you are nowhere to be found.”
Koval spoke to News 3 on Monday, reiterating his post.
“I am sick and tired of MPD being blamed for everything from soup to nuts around here,” he said. “I’m tired of the back talk. I’m tired of all the posturing. I’m tired about the squeaky wheel constantly getting all the grease around here. It’s time that somebody just said, ‘Enough already!'”
Koval said he believes the council is often silent about the accomplishments of MPD officers and fails to recognize the work they do on a daily basis. Koval, in both the blog post and Monday’s interview, took issue with council members failing to issue any proclamations or attend a memorial service for fallen officers during National Police Week.
“Their silence can be deafening at times,” Koval said. “We never hear them take up the cause of the police department. In fact, it’s very chic, it’s very gauche to say nothing and to let the decorum of what happens in these council meetings remain unabated and that’s discouraging.”
One example of this, Koval said, is a recent council vote regarding approval of police overtime hours. Koval said these votes are usually noncontroversial, but he said it devolved into a stream of public speakers criticizing the police department.
Koval said council members pulled the vote at the last minute, over the protest of Madison Mayor Paul Soglin.
“The mayor even recognized if you’re not going to talk about the overtime budget, that’s what’s before us, then you’re off topic,” Koval said. “He looked at the council (like) ‘What say you?’ (they responded,) ‘Oh, they’re registered speakers.’ He walked out, and I applaud him for that.”
Koval issued a challenge to alders, saying they should look into recalling him if they are not satisfied with the department.
“Since I don’t run for public office, maybe they should look into Chapter 62 and see what it takes to recall a police chief,” he said. “Spend your time judiciously doing that. Because if I’m the problem, attack me. I’m the chief, I’m the leader of this organization. But dammit, I’ve got good people doing great work out there under incredible, challenging positions. And if they don’t like that, they’re going to have to come to me about this from here on in.”
District 20 Alder Matthew Phair told News 3 he saw the blog post and felt Koval could have handled the issue differently, rather than posting on his blog.
“I think there’s a better way to have those sorts of conversations,” Phair said. “I’m sorry that he felt he had to go to his blog to basically blast the Common Council, but he did, and now that’s out in the public and now we can expect a robust discussion about this.”
Phair said he supports the plan to study the department and said it’s an appropriate and fiscally responsible move that will be beneficial to the community. He disputed Koval’s criticism of a “vocal minority” protesting the police.
“We have small, vocal minorities. Most of the time those small vocal folks are from white-privileged neighborhoods,” Phair said. “So now, we have a small, vocal, loud and sometimes extreme group of people pushing an issue. But what the chief maybe doesn’t understand is, behind that small group of extreme voices are a lot of moderate voices out there who are also saying ‘We’re with this.'”
Phair said he and fellow alders support the police department, disputing Koval’s assertion that the council has been silent when it comes to supporting officers.
“The council is supportive of the police department, has been for a long time,” Phair said. “By me saying that it sounds like I’m just paying lip service. So we’re getting into this personal thing, that, I don’t know, I wish we wouldn’t go there.”
Phair said he wants Koval to discuss these issues and work with council members.
“I, in a lot of ways, like the chief, and I can work with the chief very well and so could other members of the council,” Phair said. “I’d rather have these sort of discussions not necessarily out in the public.”
Koval said he is working with alders.
“We are working with you,” Koval said. “As a matter of fact, we’re probably doing more grassroots work and activism in our most troubled neighborhoods than you are.”
The Common Council is set to discuss and vote on the proposed study Tuesday.
Community reacts to police study proposal
Community members said funds for the study could be used for other purposes. The Goodman Community Center received $300,000 a year from the city. The center spends $5,000,000 in operational cost annually to serve around 34,000 people in the community. Becky Steinhoff, Executive Director, said costs continue to rise with growing need in the community.
“In my world, $400,000 for preventative services for children and youth or homeless services, which are problems that are plaguing our communities direct programming for helping with summer learning loss and youth training services are things that are critical in the summer, $400,000 goes a long, long way,” she said.
The center focuses on educational programs for youth and adults as well as provides resources and services to the area.
“We have a waiting list at every single one of our programs. We have seen the food pantry increase and the depth of what the needs are increasing,” she said.
Activist groups who have been calling for more accountability in the police department like, Freedom, Inc. say the proposal is a step in the right direction.
“We think this is a step forward to getting community control over the police,” Freedom, Inc. Organizer, Alix Shabazz, said. “I think any system that doesn’t want the community to have power over the institution that supposed to serve them is clearly an unjust system.”
Freedom, Inc. mission focuses on community needs and ending violence of people of color and other minorities within in Dane County. Within last year the group has held protests in opposition of the police department and disproportional incarceration rates of African Americans. Despite the high price tag of the study, Shabazz said she hopes the city will continue to invest money into studies that regularly look at the policies and procedures of the department.
“This is about people’s lives here. So I don’t think you can put a dollar amount to ending racial disparities. I don’t think you can put on dollar amount on ending oppression,” she said.
The money for the study comes from the city’s reserve fund. It will take a majority vote of 15 alders to pass the resolution.