The Policy Werkes yields its allotted time to Madison Police Chief Mike Koval from his always must-read blog:
by Mike Koval, chief of police
It’s been happening all too frequently. One of my officers makes an appointment with my administrative assistant. I get to the meeting and the officer sitting across from me looks decidedly uncomfortable. After exchanging pleasantries and getting up-to-date on family and personal dynamics, the issue at hand is ultimately reached; the officer is resigning.
The range of those leaving has been from those on probation (i.e., less than 18 months of service) and beyond. When asked to expound upon their decision making process, the general themes provided from the departing officer are: they are grateful for having had the experience to work at a progressive department like the MPD, they acclaim the training received, they appreciate the collegiality of their peers, and cite the laudable ambitions of people who are working tirelessly to achieve “BPR” (our term for “best possible resolutions). That said, then why are YOU making this change?
While each and every individual’s story has unique elements, the common denominator through it all is the unrelenting toxicity of the incessant criticism and scapegoating of the police for society’s complex issues, the narratives about police as the foils of racism, the ever litigious world that is currently feeding/settling law suits on the backs of a “business model” of bottom line efficiencies rather than fighting on principles, and the increasingly dangerous working conditions that are faced on a daily basis. (For example, just last week, a 28-year-old Chicago police officer, a husband and a father, a two year veteran of CPD, was killed in the line of duty. Our Honor Guard represented MPD at the funeral).
I have already commented on how our recruitment efforts have been sorely affected by the “climate” that is pervasively taking a toll on those who might contemplate serving as a police officer. Now, our own agency has begun to feel the impact of early departures. At MPD, where staffing levels are always the subject of much public debate, I can state unequivocally that officer morale has deteriorated as they are being asked to do more and more and can’t get off when they need to have that vitally important time for respite and mental health. This is going to be a chronic discussion for years to come that far transcends the City’s fiscal capacities. . .it goes to the heart of recruitment, retention, health and wellness.
When I was blessed to gather for our own family’s recent Thanksgiving, I looked with love across the table at my own two adult sons; one has already found his soulmate and has a 7-month old son while the other is 27 and is head-over-heels in a committed relationship. They remind me so much of my recruit officers — filled with hope, aspirational about doing good, and committed to making a difference.
My wife and I have raised our sons with unconditional love and support for whatever life’s pursuit(s) that they are passionate about. But truth be told, I say a silent prayer of relief that neither son is interested in following the career path that I took. The demands and sacrifices are not borne solely by the guardian who dares to take on the mantle of service, it affects the entire circle of support from family and friends.
Each Sunday, when I go to mass, we are always being asked to say prayers for an increase in vocations to religious life, which I do. Only now — more than ever — I also pray for an increase in those responding to the “calling” of policing, for those individuals who believe in the nobility of a profession that is still grounded in the notions of justice, mercy, fundamental fairness, and service.