Urging censure of Madison police chief

Amelia Royko Maurer

As stated in our petition, I have observed Madison Police Chief Michael Koval assume and carry out this important position of public leadership and trust.  I write to urge official censure of him and the filing of a complaint against him with the Madison Police and Fire Commission.

From the beginning, Koval has demonstrated an unwillingness and inability to listen.

Many of us have attended community meetings and forums, and found that Koval uses these as his personal stage. He is verbose, arrogant and disrespectful.

Although citizens are able to get in a few questions, for the most part Koval dominates every conversation and leaves no doubt of his “my way or the highway” approach to leadership.

In one instance early on in his tenure as chief, he screamed at a community member for presenting statistics and was then brought to tears citing “passion” as the culprit, but with no intention of addressing that culprit. He apparently does not know how to listen or deal rationally with unpopular feedback.

In a multi-institutional and multi-constituency setting, a leader can only be good if he or she is a skilled and compassionate communicator — adept at presenting a position, listening to others, negotiating compromises and nurturing relationships that will facilitate those compromises. Chief Koval has a serious problem with anger and with disrespect for the political process. Like many people these days, he seems to view politics with disdain, as something beneath him.  In fact, the political process is the mechanism with which democracy operates.

These attitudes were on full display in the blog he posted June 5.  He demonstrates blatant disrespect and insubordination for the Madison Common Council, including his threat that “You are being watched.  And be on notice:  this is a pre-emptive first strike from me to you.” (this from the person who controls an armed police force); contempt for Madison’s citizenry (“PC Madison”); and uses terms coined by Rush Limbaugh to describe citizens who raise questions and concerns about the conduct of MPD (the “perpetually offended”).   

Appallingly, his behavior at the June 9 Madison Common Council meeting topped even this. His blatant disrespect, erratic physical behavior and out of hand dismissals of the concerns of our elected officials, his table pounding, petulant pacing about, and outright mockery of the few non-white alders in the room bespeaks a man who believes his own department’s policy governing the professional behavior of Madison police officers is beneath him.

This is inexcusably bad leadership and management, and rather than know this, he instead boasts about these serious transgressions.  He is setting the worst example for the rank and file.  This is not what public service, and leadership of a public institution, should look like.

Alarmingly, earlier this summer we witnessed the beat-down of 18 year old Genele Laird, a slight, African-American girl who, from the video capture of the event, was not obviously resisting the officer on the scene when a much larger white officer charged her and brought her to the ground with violent knee strikes and a taser.  How much of what he felt empowered to do was informed by the attitudes expressed or training received from Chief Koval?  Is this really the use of force standard that we want for our city? I hope not.

The chief of the Madison Police Department is a public employee and public servant.  He is not an emperor or dictator.  Insofar as he shares his disgust with the political process with MPD officers — as he has — he is dangerous. He is widening the “Us vs. Them” gap when one of his first objectives as a chief should be to narrow it. Because he has postured as champion of police, rather than chief of police, many officers will see him as their champion and any effort on the part of the city to reign Koval in or run him out may result in serious problems with the department.  These will be problems of his making.

Alarm over Koval’s apparent anger, disrespect and outright contempt, is spreading in our community.  A public employee and public official who displays the kind of contempt for elected officials and citizens should be fired.  However, I call on you, the only elected people in our city with the power to directly censure Madison’s chief of police, to do so for Koval’s repeated, culturally supported displays of insubordination, disrespect, and contempt for citizens and elected officials.  I call on you to file a formal complaint against him with the Madison Police and Fire Commission seeking to have him removed as chief for the many violations of his own department’s policy as well as for the direct insubordination of the Common Council.

I implore you to get educated on the true scope and extent of the powers you have to affect change within the police department in the form of lawful orders which the department is, in fact, compelled to obey.  Finally, next time a chief is selected for this city, do everything you can to guarantee we do not get “more of the same.”

Amelia Royko Maurer lives in Madison.

On the Web

Progressive Dane of Dane County is circulating a petition that urges the Madison Common Council to pursue filing censure and a complaint with the Police and Fire Commission against Police Chief Koval. The petition is at https://www.change.org/p/madison-city-council-file-complaint-against-chief-koval-with-pfc

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