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It Has Been an Honor and a Privilege to Serve

If you have followed me as Chief, you know that I was raised by an Irish Catholic mom who provided the foundation for my faith life. So for those who may not be aware, we Catholics have a patron saint for literally everything and everyone. So it is only fitting that on September 29–the feast day of St. Michael, the Guardian Archangel—my namesake and confirmation saint—and the patron saint of police officers, that I would use this day  to announce the end of my career at the MPD. For you see, I did my best to be a guardian to the community and a guardian to the “guardians” (cops).

It has been an honor and a privilege to serve this community. Each day, I resolved to do my level best to keep “Camelot” a safe place to live, work, and play—for everyone. This is the City where I was raised, went to grade school through college (and parts of my law school studies), met my wife here, began our family here, and provided me with the opportunity to make a difference as a street cop for a department that was (and is) firmly committed to community policing.

I began this quest on July 11, 1983. Save for a brief stint of two years in the FBI, I have spent my entire professional life as a cop. For those who may have aspirations of becoming a police officer, “caveat emptor”—let the buyer beware: I have been shot at (twice), bitten, fought with people, spat upon, gone through significant exposure protocols, been in two car crashes, dealt with death threats, had to pay to have my personal information protected when people tried to ruin my credit rating(s) by making applications for loans, etc., been sued, seen plenty of adverse news coverage, dealt with frivolous complaints, froze my butt off on perimeters, sweated through my bullet resistant vest until it was soaking wet, and routinely insulted over the years with every acrid name and profanity imaginable. This is the “new normal”—and I would not trade the experience for anything.

For you see, I have also seen wayward kids and families embraced and helped by cops. Victims given protection and hope. Diapers purchased, Happy meals obtained, housing located, social services put in place—by cops. I have seen mentoring, advocating, and mourning by cops for those who needed a role model, needed someone to get justice for them, and needed someone to help them manage their grief and move on with their lives. I have witnessed acts of valor, selfless service, deeds of life saving as well as saved lives, and extraordinary acts of kindness. As the gatekeepers to the criminal justice system, and armed with lofty goals, love for others and hopes for mercy, restorative justice conversations began with cops and programming initiatives—which deflect/redirect persons afflicted with addictions or mental illness episodic crises are kept out of the criminal justice system—thanks to the efforts of cops. 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.

To our community partners, thank you for helping us to work collaboratively for people who have been left behind, fallen between the cracks, are hurting, addicted, or in need of someone’s intervention for a variety of reasons. To constituents who have lent their support and encouragement to the body of good works that our police are performing on a daily basis—I am eternally grateful; you will never know how important your efforts have meant to the morale of our Department. To the “haters,” thanks to you as well—for through your unrelenting, unforgiving, desire to make the police the brunt of all of your scorn—I drew strength from your pervasive and persistent bullying. I have made a career of fighting for the underdog and I was able to hang on much longer than I had originally planned (or that you had hoped) :)!

To my MPD Family, in spite of all the odds—the trials, the tribulations—stay strong. You are a legacy of guardians who care and care deeply about the “BPR’s” (“best possible resolutions”) in the outcomes of those who are manifesting desperate acts under desperate circumstances. Our civilian workforce is a boon of support to helping us fulfill our mission and takes pride in customer focused services; you share our successes as well as the trauma that we cops experience. All of you are working under exceedingly challenging conditions—always being asked to do more with less and do it as quickly as possible. But you all need to be mindful of the necessity to take care of yourself as well as each other. Be attentive guardians to one another. Look for help when you need it. Talk and express your feelings—don’t store them up. Seek people/resources who can provide support and professional assistance. My biggest fear in leaving my MPD Family as Chief? Who will protect the guardians when they are hurting, when they are tried in the court(s) of public opinion/Facebook/and the media without fundamental fairness and respect for due process? Who will check in on them when they are hurt or injured (emotionally or physically)? Who will lead the cheers for the birth of a child, a wedding, a retirement? And who will be there for them to grieve the loss of someone special? Who will be unafraid to speak up on their behalf?

To the community, MPD is trying, with a sense of urgency and purpose, to earn your trust and to work cooperatively in addressing the issues of our day. I am sorry if I said or did anything which caused you to question these motives or the authentic desires of MPD to be relational partners in moving forward. Blame me for whatever missteps or disappointments you may have but please give this Department and its dedicated employees the benefit of the doubt, and let them impress you with their selfless desire to better serve you! Believe it or not, once you venture outside of this City, MPD is well-respected nationally and is a model in a host of different domains including community policing and engagement, mental illness response, recruiting a diverse workforce, and restorative justice initiatives. Ask PERF. Ask DOJ. Ask OIR.

By the time you read this blog, the MPD Family will have had access to an internal video from me. While I expressed my deepest gratitude for their collective efforts, I also acknowledged my failure to get more staffing. I have tried—using staffing studies, workload analysis, galvanizing grass roots campaigns (it worked for getting Midtown operational but not for getting enough cops), tried educating Council(s)/Mayor’s, and appealed to the media to focus a light on the issue. But I didn’t get it done; I could not get the staffing levels we need to maintain our service levels. We need 31 cops; I felt compelled to divert 12 positions away from other important areas in order to get our Patrol deficit down to “19” in 2020. But this is not sustainable, folks. The next chapter will have to examine reducing services and making more calls go to a “self-reporting” option since we don’t have enough cops to send to everything. We are now averaging about 10% of our time daily on “priority calls only.” Property damage crashes, noise complaints, and other quality-of-life incidents will have to be among the service areas discussed as items for consideration in the future.

Effective Monday, 9/30, Assistant Chief Vic Wahl will be the interim Chief of Police for MPD until the Police and Fire Commission (PFC) conducts a hiring process. Wahl is a very bright and capable leader who has worked his way up the ladder and held a plethora of positions, performing exceptionally at each and every step along the way. Wahl is my most “senior” chief and he will be complemented by two exceptional leaders, Assistant Chief John Patterson and Assistant Chief Paige Valenta. This is a “dream team” that will ensure that quality control assurances do not diminish in the least during the search process. And Alyssa Cains—my administrative assistant—can help them out as she did for me and did so superbly! This blog that many of you have been faithfully reading and supporting over the years (I never missed a day since the daily reporting began -J), may take a turn and be utilized differently . . . the only thing constant is “change,” right?!?!

Finally, I want to thank all of the members of my family—especially my wife, Jane, for all of their support. My sons and their partners have provided me with a sounding board and a safe place for me to vent. Jane did this as well but with the additional burden of living a life that was forced to sacrifice and improvise on a daily basis given my crazy schedule and hours. Jane: thanks for sticking by me through this saga and still loving me unconditionally despite all odds! I look forward to going on a forever vacation known as “retirement” with you!

Chief Koval

This post was originally published at Chief Koval’s Blog.

Michael Koval
Chief of Police
Madison Police Department, Wisconsin