Madison police work to connect with community

MPD hopes officers are involved in community beyond law enforcement
Madison police work to connect with community
Madison Police Chief Mike Koval

It began earlier this year with the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The officer-involved death of Eric Garner in New York City spurred further unrest. Now the officer-involved shooting death of 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee brings the problem closer to home.

The deaths of the three men have resulted in widespread protests and, in the case of Ferguson, weeks of rioting. It has also resulted in examination by police departments around the country of their policies.

In Madison, Police Chief Michael Koval believes the bridges he and his officers have built with the community have established a level of trust not present in every community.

The department has stressed the need for officers to involve themselves in the community beyond law enforcement. They connect with community members in everything from problem solving mental health cases to helping families in financial crisis during the holidays.

“We are unapologetic about the fact that our role is that of a social worker with a badge. I’m sort of Don Quixote chasing a lot of windmills here in ‘Man of La Mancha.’ When everybody else is talking about and seeing depictions of the cops as warriors, we’ve always tried to strike up our image as that of guardians,” Koval said.

In doing so, they have developed a level of trust and allowed the community to see their officers as more than people who show up with handcuffs to make arrests.

The Madison Police Department, which already has a program to connect with individuals in the community with a mental illness, plans to further develop the program in 2015.

“What you will see in the dawning of next year is that it has reached such an apex for me personally and as the chief of the Madison Police Department that we will be announcing in the first quarter of the year that I’m literally taking five officers from patrol and dedicating one officer in every district to do nothing but pre-emptive, collaborative problem-solving with mental illness cases,” Koval said.