MPD Chief Wray to retire in 2 months, city reflects on leader

Noble Wray retires

Madison Police Chief Noble Wray is stepping down after nine years at the helm of the Madison Police Department.

Wray said he had planned to retire at the beginning of 2013 but he wanted to make sure the office-involved shooting situation and internal investigations were in a manageable position before leaving.

Photo gallery of news conference

“I wanted to make sure that the officer-involved shooting investigation that was complete, and what was taking place with Officer Heimsness, as well as some associated investigations were at a manageable point for me to retire,” said Wray. “I had intended to retire at the beginning of 2013 and I just believe right now, I’m at a point where I can do that.”

Wray said his last days will be sometime at the end of September or beginning of October and the Assistant Police Chief Randy Gaber would become the interim chief.

“I’ve had the honor and privilege to lead the men and women of this organization,” said Wray. “I don’t think I could ever, with how much my blood, sweat and tears are in the organization, I don’t think it could ever be an easy decision.”

Madison City Alder Shiva Bidar-Sielaff told News 3 the chief has “invested decades of his life to the city, so I understand his desire to retire and spend time with his family.”

She said she spoke with him personally Tuesday morning about his decision. He was “always somebody who has been extremely committed to the kind of policing that our community wants. I’m happy for him, but I’m sad to see him go,” she said.

Wray was named police chief in Oct. 2004 and has been with the Madison Police Department for 28 years.

Wray focused on what he called “trust-based policing” and has served as a nationally recognized consultant for law enforcement organizations. He also served on numerous boards and commissions at the county and state level.

During the news conference, Wray said he was proud of getting Freakfest and the Mifflin Street Block Party at manageable levels, starting community policing teams, adding K9 and Mounty patrol units, implementing a crime prevention gang unit, and investing in the men and women of the organization.

MPD Chief Wray to retire in 2 months

Wray took criticism after last November’s shooting of Paul Heenan by Officer Steven Heimsness. Wray filed a complaint to fire Heimsness after uncovering inappropriate messages Heimsness made on department computers, among other allegations. Heimsness later resigned.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said he’d known about Wray’s decision for a little while.

Even with internal investigations, the resignation of Heimsness, and two officer-involved shootings, Soglin said he never lost any confidence in Wray’s leadership.

Soglin even said he’d like to see “more of the same” in the next police chief.

“I think he leaves with two different things in mind. One is tremendous respect for his professionalism. And two, he’s beloved,” Soglin said.

Noble Wray timeline at MPD

Wray started his career as a patrol officer on Madison’s south side. In 1987, then-Chief David Couper made Wray the first beat cop in the infamous Broadway-Simpson Street neighborhood.

Wray spent two years on the beat, as police tried to clean up the notorious area. As public housing projects in Chicago shut down, their tenants moved to places like Madison and needed to “assimilate,” said South District Capt. Joe Balles, who worked with Wray in the 1980s.

“Where south Madison is at today compared to where it was 20 years ago — it’s just a night and day difference,” Balles said. “A lot of places Noble’s been throughout his career, a lot of good things have followed.”

Balles, who, like Wray, lost his father at an early age, said being raised in a large single-parent family made Wray a leader.

“When you grow up in a single parent family, kids have this extra sense of responsibility and this dire need to succeed,” Balles said.

Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, credited Wray’s poor, inner-city Milwaukee upbringing as helpful to the chief.

“When we wanted a police officer at the Boys and Girls Club, he built an office and put a neighborhood police officer there. When we wanted to bridge a better relationship between young people and law enforcement officials, he found a way to make that happen by creating a youth police academy for both black and Latino kids,” Johnson said. “I think part of that is his own upbringing.”

Search to begin for next police chief