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Former Madison police chief reflects on roller coaster career

MADISON (WKOW) —  Former Madison Police Chief Mike Koval says he’s retiring now because of what he calls the ‘politics of policing’.

Sunday was his last official day as chief, as Asst. Chief Vic Wahl takes over until the Police & Fire Commission chooses a replacement.

“I am a square peg trying to fit into round holes,” Koval said, as he reflected on his attempts to gain support for adding more officers over the years.

As the city of Madison prepares to negotiate a new budget, Koval says he isn’t up for another battle for funding for the department. Koval hopes a new face can bring police what they need to get the job done.

“My concern is that I can’t continue to operate in an environment where the police aren’t looked at as critically important to the perceptions of what it’s like to live, work and play in Madison. And I don’t feel that we are being looked at as a critical partner in that endeavor.”

The department has already submitted its budget needs to the mayor’s office, calling for more officers. Koval said in his blog post announcing his retirement the department needs 31 more officers. He already had to pull 12 positions away from other areas to cover patrols.

“My team is ready to make their budgetary pitch. And they can do that without me becoming a distraction because I’m at my wit’s end,” he said.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is set to announce her first budget Tuesday afternoon, but Koval doesn’t expect it to include everything the department needs, based on the priorities she laid out in her election campaign.

“I would venture to say that although there is no money for any cops, I’ll bet you there’s going to be money for an independent auditor of the cops,” Koval said.

Rhodes-Conway has not been available to take questions about Koval’s retirement, but she released a statement Sunday thanking him for his service and calling for community input on a new chief.

Meanwhile, Koval is looking back on the ups and downs of his time as chief.

Koval says his legacy will be in the many officers he’s trained and hired. Plus, the programs developed to address addiction, mental health issues and community policing.

“When we have more time to do community policing, engagement, getting out of the squad car interacting, I think that’s when we’re at our best,” he said. “And that’s when we can sort of move beyond the badge and the gun and the uniform to understand that we share that common source of humanity and there [is] far more that we have to celebrate together than to be disagreeable about.”

Koval hopes a new police leader will continue to help improve the department’s relationship with the community. It was tested most after an officer shot and killed Tony Robinson in 2015, almost a year after Koval took over as chief.

“For those who felt betrayed, let down, disappointed and angry by the Madison police, that’s constantly something that we have to be build, something we have to constantly try to strive for,” he said.

But Koval also hopes the community can forgive the department and move on from what happened. He says he’s been criticized for strongly defending his officers over the years, but he doesn’t regret standing by the process of investigating officer conduct.

“I hold people accountable. I have suspended people. We have had people criminally indicted and we would continue to do that. So it’s not a question of the cops getting a pass,” Koval said.

The community rally he’ll treasure most, is the support for the family of a little boy, Dominic May, whose love for police lives on after his death in a car crash.

“His family, in their sense of forgiveness immediately after this tragic accident, and their resolve to make something constructive and lasting out of tragic circumstances, are one of those teachable moments to me at this very age will forever be deep in my heart,” Koval said.

As the sun sets on Koval’s more than three decades with the department, he’s looking forward to retirement and more time with his wife. Plus, he hopes volunteering with kids could be his new purpose.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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