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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The appointment of a new Police Chief will be a defining moment for the city, said Keith Findley, UW-Madison Associate Professor of Law.

Madison Police and Fire Commission work to replace police chief, allows ‘time of introspection’

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval unexpectedly announced his retirement last month, beginning the Police and Fire Commission’s process of electing his replacement and naming an interim chief, according to the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners.

But what does the change mean for the Madison Police Department?

While the chief of police leads the police force, they’re also responsible for setting policy and creating the tone and culture for policing throughout Madison. The appointment of a new Police Chief will be a defining moment for the city, said University of Wisconsin-Madison Associate Professor of Law Keith Findley. 

“Madison has a long and proud history of progressive policing in which it has shown great concern about issues of equity and inclusion,” Findley said. “Whether the department fortifies its commitment to those ideals, or withdraws from them, or maintains the status quo, is dependent largely on the directions [the new chief] sets.”

The PFC plans to meet on Oct. 14, where they will most likely designate a department officer to act as temporary Police Chief while the appointment process is underway. Assistant Chief Vic Wahl, the highest-ranking assistant chief officer, will serve as acting chief until an official interim chief is selected, according to City Attorney Mike May.

“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,” Koval wrote in a farewell blog post.

Koval’s sudden resignation came as a surprise. In his blog post, Koval expressed both gratitude to MPD and frustration at his inability to secure more staffing for the department — which he describes as 31 officers short of a full staff.

“Blame me for whatever missteps or disappointments you may have but please give this Department and its dedicated employees the benefit of the doubt,” Koval wrote. “Let them impress you with their selfless desire to better serve you.” 

The absence of a police chief comes in tandem with major changes to the department. An Ad Hoc Police Review Committee, which Findley co-chairs, is preparing to send 177 recommendations to the Madison Common Council next week.

“This is a time of real introspection, in the city and in the police department,” Findley said. “It's a real juncture here where the city could go in a variety of different directions. The chief will have a lot to say about how that all plays out what and how the department responds.”

Police and Fire Commissioners are now taking the appropriate steps to appoint a new chief, but have yet to meet and determine a specific plan for doing so, said Jenna Rousseau, Legal Counsel to the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners. Recruitment, testing and evaluation plans for selecting the new chief will be announced by the commission soon.

Findley explained that some of Madison's communities feel like they've not been heard by the department. A new chief could be the solution to fostering inclusivity and repairing some of those “damaged relationships.”

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“I think the new chief has to be someone who understands Madison's history of progressive policing and is committed to maintaining — and advancing — that philosophy even further than it has been up to this point,” Findley said. “The new chief has to be able to come in and hear [resident’s] concerns and respond to them in ways that make everyone in the community have confidence in their police.”

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