Two of Madison’s top law enforcement officials traded public criticisms online Tuesday, chastising each other for their treatment of juvenile offenders.
The dispute began when Madison Police Chief Mike Koval released his daily blog post, in which he expressed concern about the increasing frequency of “juveniles engaged in serious, illegal behavior[s].”
Koval cast doubt on whether the "failing" juvenile justice system actually held offenders accountable for their actions. He said multiple citizens expressed worries to him about increases in school disturbances and gang membership among local teens.
“Weapons offenses, stealing cars and operating them recklessly, brazen burglaries, robberies, and sexual assaults are among the litany of crimes that have generated fear and apprehension in our community,” Koval wrote. “Regrettably, the juvenile ‘justice’ system is not responding to the issues at hand.”
Koval referred specifically to a recent battery and car theft incident involving four 13- and 14-year-olds, one of whom was a multiple repeat offender.
“Quite frankly, at this point in time, I am NOT preoccupied in looking at what ‘caused’ these youths to transgress the law, I am more inclined to ask what the consequences will be for the behavior,” he said. “While I endorse community-based restorative justice initiatives, I draw the line at serious, felony behaviors.”
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne issued a statement responding to Koval Tuesday afternoon, disagreeing with Koval’s assessment of the justice system.
Ozanne questioned whether Koval was actually interested in making sure offenders were rehabilitated rather than just punished. He identified imprisonment as merely a short-term solution to the problem, which would likely continue after release.
“The juvenile’s best interests and the safety of our community are linked and it is past time we acknowledged this,” Ozanne said. “I implore the people of this county to resist the urge to turn towards more severe and harsher punishments and instead ask them to join me in demanding and creating change.”
He criticized the police department’s comment that 30 juveniles were to blame for a disproportionate share of the crimes.
“Is that our goal, to increase the share of crime being committed by other juveniles?” he asked. “Is creating fear of governmental institutions really our second goal? I think not.”