Madison’s police chief says what he thinks. We like that.
But when he says what he thinks in a needlessly aggressive and sarcastic way, it doesn’t help his cause or department.
Chief Mike Koval wrote a fiery blog post Sunday evening, questioning a City Council proposal to spend $350,000 on a consultant to examine the Madison Police Department’s policies, procedures, training and culture. The money adds to $50,000 committed to the effort last year, following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black 19-year-old (who had taken drugs and was being erratic and violent with passersby before striking an officer in the head in a narrow stairway).
Koval is right the money could be better spent. An exhaustive and independent investigation of last year’s shooting convinced Ismael Ozanne, the state’s first black district attorney, that no charges were warranted against the white officer who shot and killed Tony Robinson. More generally, the Madison Police Department is one of the most community focused, best educated and trained in the nation.
In other words, Madison isn’t Ferguson, Missouri, where a white police department routinely abused a predominantly black population with tickets, fees, slurs and stun guns, according to federal investigators.
Madison police have worked hard to diversify their ranks while partnering with troubled neighborhoods. Spending $400,000 on an outside report could marginally build trust with some citizens. But an extra neighborhood officer walking the beat for several years could do much more for the same money.
Koval is right that Madison is too easily offended, and city officials are sometimes timid when confronted by small, vocal groups of critics. He’s right his officers deserve recognition for their difficult jobs. The police department can’t solve all of society’s ills or magically erase racial disparities.
But Koval’s strategy of escalating his conflict with the council is flawed. The 19-1 vote in favor of the police study was only the latest evidence of that.
Koval’s blog post read more like a talk radio rant than a community leader trying to persuade his civic colleagues.
“You are being watched,” he wrote directly to City Council members. “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.”
Koval continued to spar with aldermen at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, nearly walking out at one point, rolling his eyes at council members’ comments and striking a table in frustration. The scene didn’t fit the police chief’s nickname of ”Kumbaya” Koval when he became the top cop two years ago.
That said, the City Council should defend the department more from outlandish claims, and not overreact when Koval goes negative. Ald. Samba Baldeh sounded paranoid Tuesday night when he said he didn’t feel safe with Koval sitting behind him during the meeting with a gun.
This feud needs to end. The city deserves a professional and constructive dialog to promote public safety.