Madison residents gathered with commissioners in a virtual town hall this past Saturday to discuss what they wish to see in the city’s next police chief, emphasizing professionalism and willingness to accept criticism.
The Police and Fire Commission hosted the town hall in order to foster community engagement and gather input on what residents want to see in the next police chief. Officials had originally hoped that the commission would be able to do large “listening sessions” throughout the city, but the pandemic forced those plans to be put to the side in favor of virtual events.
With Police Chief Mike Koval‘s early retirement this year, after a history of conflict with the Madison Common Council, instances of unprofessionalism and alleged threats, the hunt for a new chief has been of particular interest to the community.
“For me, a concern is that the new police chief is open to feedback and criticism without taking it as an attack on either themselves or the MPD,” said Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles, one of the residents that registered to speak. “Since 2014, we’ve suffered from police leadership that sees any oversight or criticism as a personal attack and responds in kind.”
Gildrie-Voyles specifically referred to the “blog post-incident” in 2016, when Koval authored a blog post on the official City of Madison website that appeared to threaten members of the council that questioned or criticized his department.
“To the Common Council: You are being watched,” Koval wrote. “And be on notice: this is a preemptive first strike from me to you. I am going to push back hard when MPD is constantly used as a political punching bag and you are nowhere to be found.”
His actions appeared to be prompted by a proposal that was made to allocate an additional $350,000 for a consultant to examine MPD policies and procedures, following an initial review of the department after Tony Robinson was shot and killed by a Madison police officer in 2015.
Residents also emphasized a need for transparency and compliance with new police oversight measures. Some even stated that the new police chief should be from outside the city, not simply promoted to the position from within the MPD, to ensure that they would be willing to promote change within the department.
Another resident, Jay Ferm, urged the Commission to take the chance to rethink the role of the next police chief during the hiring process.
“We’re rethinking the role of police in our society right now, in terms of whether they’re doing too much, whether we should be offloading some of the demands we put on the police to other agencies such as mental health [providers], things like that,” he stated. “We might want to pause looking for a police chief until we as a community have really decided what we want our police force to look like.”
Nia Trammell, a commissioner for PFC, addressed Ferm’s comment directly.
“I’m certain you’re probably not the only one [in] the community that holds that perspective, but it’s the first time I’m hearing from a resident in one of our public listening sessions that we might want to think about pausing the search until we’re in a much better place in terms of what the community wants,” Trammell responded.
However, the commissioner stated that the search will likely not be put on hold due to a limit in city resources.
“Our hope is that we’ll have a police chief leader who will be a transformational figure and who will work with the community to sort of set the table for the type of police force that we want,” Trammell concluded.
The PFC has dealt with several hurdles to promoting public outreach during the pandemic. However, they’ve already received hundreds of emails, nearly 300 responses to their web survey, “snail-mail” and call-ins to garner proper feedback regarding the hiring process. They will be conducting an additional virtual town hall on Thursday, Sept. 17.