Who is the new Madison police interim chief? And what’s next for the department?

With the surprise news that Madison Police Chief Mike Koval is retiring, that means Victor Wahl is taking over in the interim, as the city searches for a new leader.

“He is an incredibly intelligent guy, and he brings a lot to the table,” said Kelly Powers, president of the Madison Professional Police Officers Association.

Wahl started at the Madison Police Department in 1991, according to his department bio. He has worked in a number of roles in the department, including patrol officer, member of the Dane County Narcotics and Gang Task Force, member of the department’s SWAT team and commander in the West District. He has undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“He’s got great credentials. Personally, I hope that he applies to be the chief. I think he’d be a great chief, but we’ll see how the politics play on this,” said District 9 Alder Paul Skidmore.

Powers said based on conversations with Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, he believes the city will start a national search for the new police chief. While Powers said it can be important to see what’s out there, he said he believes there are a number of good candidates at the department. He hopes the new chief is balanced, reasonable and able to bring up the department’s staffing levels.

Powers said it would also likely be in the new chief’s best interests to be familiar with Madison and understand “the uniqueness to Madison politics.”

“Can they coincide and deal with the politics?” Powers asked.

Koval cited the politics of the mayor and Madison Common Council and their unwillingness to provide additional police officers to the force as reasons for his sudden retirement.

The Madison Police and Fire Commission said it will likely choose a department officer to act as police chief at its next meeting Oct. 14. The commission said it will share news about recruitment for the new permanent chief soon.

Rhodes-Conway’s office said she was unavailable for an interview Monday but in a statement she said she will work with the commission to organize a search for the new chief. The mayor said the public and the department should have “significant input” in choosing the new leader.

Former police Chief David Couper, who served in the role between 1972 and 1993, said the new chief should be smart, well-educated, emotionally controlled and well-trained.

“The chief has to be a model of the best cop on the department,” Couper said.

He said while for the most part, being the top cop is a good job and that person is able to help people, the profession in modern day can also be “toxic” and met with backlash. He even wrote a book on the subject.

“There’s got to be a rebuilding of the trust that’s been lost since Ferguson,” Couper added.

Skidmore said he is concerned the new chief will be more inclined to listen to rhetoric about social justice and won’t be suited to address the city’s criminal problems, particularly in the downtown area.

“It’s going to be important to have the right chief, and there is some concern that the next chief may not reflect the real needs of public safety in this community,” Skidmore said.

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