Madison Police Chief Mike Koval strongly criticized the city and its funding priorities in a Sunday evening blog post ahead of Tuesday's City Council meeting when alders will vote on increasing funding for a review of the police department.
The proposed resolution calls for an additional $350,000 from the city’s contingent reserve fund in addition to $50,000 originally set aside to pay for a consultant to review the police department’s policies, procedures, culture and training.
In Koval’s lengthy post, which took a sarcastic tone at times, he said he was unconvinced shelling out thousands for a consultant study is a good use of city funding.
“When not-for-profits and community leaders and activists are begging and bemoaning funding for engagement initiatives that are urgently needed … the City is marching forward demanding a total of $400,000 to get a report card on MPD,” Koval wrote.
“Heck! Why stop there? Why don't we double that amount?,” Koval continued. “For a City that claims to be on the brink of fiscal ruin, if this is so damn urgent and this Department is spiraling out of control, then money should be of no object!"
Acknowledging the cost of the study, Ald. Denise DeMarb, District 16, said the ad hoc committee has thoroughly researched costs of similar studies and spent a considerable amount of time drafting a request for proposals to find a third-party consultant.
“This committee has been handpicked,” DeMarb said. “If they’re asking for this much money, I do believe that that’s what it will cost.”
The ad hoc committee to review the police department's policies and procedures was created in November 2015 as a response to the local and national dialogue surrounding officer-involved shootings, including the death of Tony Robinson and general mistrust between the community and the police department.
If the recommendation is approved, the 2016 contingent reserve fund balance will be $514,837.
The ad hoc committee will make final recommendations to Mayor Paul Soglin, the City Council, the Police and Fire Commission and Koval by July 2017, with interim recommendations if necessary.
Koval said in the post he does not object to an independent review and is “confident” that it will reflect positive work within the police department.
“From the initial suggestion of an ad hoc committee to study MPD 'Policy' to the currently-constituted RFP, my mantra has been the same: ‘Bring it on. We have nothing to hide and much to brag about,’” Koval wrote.
Calling out alders
Koval wrote directly and aggressively in addressing City Council members.
“You are being watched," he wrote. “And be on notice: this is a pre-emptive first strike from me to you."
Koval argued that the Council does not hold public speakers who are critical of MPD to set time limits, engaged in “MPD bashing” during the annual submission of the police overtime report and failed to recognize police officers during local police week.
“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 wrote.
This is not the first time Koval has accused the council of not defending the police department. He sent an email to alders in March 2015 after public testimony at a City Council meeting following the officer-involved shooting that led to Tony Robinson’s death.
DeMarb said she believes the City Council has worked with and supported the police department, though Mayor Paul Soglin has pushed back against the Midtown Police District.
“Given how supportive the council has been to the police department, to have him come out strongly like that is disappointing,” DeMarb said. “It doesn’t get us anywhere. Collaboration gets us someplace.”
DeMarb, also a sponsor of the resolution, was firm in her support of the MPD but said it is important to evaluate the department through a review process.
“If that takes an independent review for people to have comfort that the police department is policing how we want them to be, I think that's a good idea,” DeMarb said. “For me, it’s about having an independent review to be affirmed that we have the police department that we think we have.”
Rift between council and MPD
Many alders found Koval's tone surprising and inappropriate.
"I found the chief’s statement to be unnecessarily divisive," said Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4. "Unfortunately, the blog gives the impression that the council is not supportive of the police department and nothing is further from the truth."
Verveer also said he does not think Koval's words will sway council members from their support of the police study funding.
Ald. Mark Clear, District 19, said the post's language is "bullying" and "completely inappropriate for a public figure," and that he had heard similar language from the chief at a neighborhood meeting June 1 at High Point Church in Ald. Paul Skidmore's district.
"To me his intention was very clear," Clear said. "He was trying to rile up a crowd of white people to have a fight with the council over the budget."
Koval wrote in the post that the department needs more officers and a new Midtown police district to stay on schedule — both likely discussion points during the city's upcoming budget process.
“You tell us the cupboard is bare and there is no money---for anything,” Koval wrote. “But the City will go into their financial reserve fund for $400,000 . . . for an assessment of a Department that has been recognized by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) as a shining light of progressive community based policing?!?! Can't wait to see how this plays out!”
The City Council will also take up a resolution Tuesday authorizing the MPD to apply for and accept a grant of $875,000 to hire seven police officers to expand community policing, mental health, neighborhood, gang, outreach and education efforts in the new Midtown District when it becomes operational in 2018.
Those who support the study hoped it would build trust between the police department and the community, but some worry the relationship is worse off because of the chief's words.
The intent of the consultant’s review, Ald. Shiva Bidar, District 5, said, is to provide more information for the police department and for the community to understand policing in Madison.
“In order for us to better understand what kind of investment and what kind of infrastructure our police needs, we need to understand its police structure,” Bidar, who is one of the resolution's nine sponsors, said. “Our communities need to understand it and be part of the conversation.”
Bidar said she found Koval’s criticisms “ill-placed” and pushed back against his description of the “small but vocal numbers” he argued dictate city agendas.
“I find that to show a level of being tone deaf for any of us who spend most of our time in our communities of color and being members of it, this not a conversation of a small group,” Bidar said.
Some said Koval's comments only emphasized the need for a police department review.
"The bigger point to me is this is about equity and this is about trust," Ald. Matt Phair, District 20, said. "By doing what he did he’s really showing why we need this to be done."
And others are unsure the study's results will be effective in light of the chief's comments.
"Given the way he’s now framed (study), I’m not sure," Clear said. "He may have actually poisoned the well."