Sgt. Mike Koval of the Madison Police Department goes after black people, and he's unabashed about saying so.
He singles out Latinos, too. And gays and lesbians. And other minorities.
"Yes, I do that," Koval says. "And until I'm told otherwise, I'll continue to aggressively pursue women and people of color and alternate sexual orientation."
This would be a deeply alarming sentiment - except that Koval is talking about his role as a police recruiter.
"Do I want to diversify the MPD? Hell, yes," he says. "I don't want 444 white guys with bad haircuts like me to be the face of this department."
It's an attitude that fits well with liberal Madison, but it's not typical of Koval's peers around the country.
Nor, necessarily, is his approach to recruits' academy instruction, which he's been in charge of since 1995. Anyone who qualifies for the MPD academy, Koval says, is going to be taught what police officers can't or shouldn't do as much as what they can.
"If you look at the nationwide method of policing, specifically as it pertains to the teaching of the law to recruits," he says, "the trend seems to be, 'Here's how we can push the envelope, and push it hard and fast' - to get the incriminating statement into evidence, or to make the traffic stop and the arrest. Our approach certainly doesn't minimize the powers our officers have, but it gives equal or greater emphasis to constitutional limitations."
At a time when police are making national headlines for overstepping their authority - as when Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested at his own home last July for mouthing off to a cop - Koval's point of view (see "Training Cops to Take It," 8/6/09) is reassuring
Whether it's realistic is another question. After all, once they leave the academy, Madison's police officers are out from under Koval's purview. And he admits that, even within his own department, there are quiet critics who'd like him to worry less about hiring women or respecting criminals' rights and more about plain old law enforcement.
But that, the sergeant says, makes his mission all the more vital.
When most people think of being a police officer, they focus on a small set of specialized tasks: writing tickets, making arrests, catching bad guys. Mike Koval stresses that these things are only part of the job.
"The law-enforcement part is undoubtedly a lot sexier than going to a neighborhood meeting and talking about quality of life," he says. "That's not sexy. And yet the 'social work' component is our lifeblood and vital to our success. You're not going to build trust and partnerships if the only mode of operation you know is law enforcement."
At 51, Koval has the endlessly upbeat energy of an evangelist, but never gives off a sense that he's hiding something or being insincere. Though at times a little corny, he's charming and funny and manages to be both laidback and fiery - coolly confident with a mildly manic edge.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Koval at first did not want a career in police work. After graduating from Madison West High School, he got an undergraduate degree in journalism from the UW-Madison (including side stints as Reggie Regent and Bucky Badger). Originally he planned on becoming a member of the Fourth Estate, but as school went on, he realized he wouldn't be satisfied as a journalist.
"Frankly, it left me wanting for more," he says. "There wasn't enough opportunity to have the kind of contact that I needed. There was too much of a delayed gap in seeing what you were doing and how it affected others."
Koval says his Uncle Shawn Riley, an agent with the Division of Criminal Investigation at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, "did everything in his power to discourage me from policing." Riley pointed out the long, irregular hours and face-time with the community's more unpleasant members. He suggested his nephew try the FBI, where day-to-day life tends to be more scheduled.
But when Koval applied to the FBI, he learned that his journalism background "was not a highly sought-after area, and that the people they needed were lawyers and accountants. I knew I wasn't going to be able to handle the math, so I applied to law school."
In 1983, two years into his studies at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., Koval got word that the Madison Police Department was hiring.
"At that time, hiring was random - you never knew when there would be an advertisement," Koval says. "I said, 'Y'know, I should at least throw my hat in the ring and see how far I go. It'll be a learning experience.'"
That learning experience turned into a job offer, which Koval accepted. "My mom cried," he says. "She was convinced I wasn't going to finish my law degree."
Koval would finish it, and get hired by the FBI. But not immediately.
Early on a Thursday morning in September, the MPD's latest crop of recruits - 17 men and seven women - are in uniform, milling around the basement of Door Creek Church on the city's east side. They're in two-person teams, rotating through role-playing scenarios to prepare them for on-the-job situations. Koval roams the area, observing the recruits, offering feedback, asking his training team for their opinions of the new kids' performance.
None of the scenarios involve violent criminals or offer recruits a chance to draw their rubber faux sidearms; those will come later. Rather, they deal with more mundane problems that make up the bulk of police work.
One pair of recruits are called to a high school, where an irate mother and father are refusing to leave the football coach's office until he promises to play their son in the next game. Another respond to a senior citizen's complaint about naked prowlers, only to discover he is suffering from early dementia and has a loaded gun. A third pair are summoned to an auto shop, where a customer is demanding the return of his car, saying he was told the bill would be $50 less than what it turned out to be.
The recruits struggle at times to untangle these messes. It compels new respect for the veteran officers who handle such kerfuffles with ease.
Interestingly, the recruits are often too deferential. Koval chides one trainee for obliging a passerby who keeps horning in on her attempt to mediate a dispute; another is warned not to greet citizens with a handshake, as it leaves officers vulnerable to attack; and in the high school scenario, the recruits are reminded they don't need to knock and wait for permission to enter an open office door.
But another recruit gets called out for being too aggressive in getting a citizen to comply with his demands. Police need to strike a fine balance - to convey a sense of authority without abusing their power.
"We want to teach confidence versus arrogance," says Officer Daryl Doberstein, a member of Koval's training team. "And it's easier to build someone up than to take them down a notch."
This is one reason Koval is so open to applicants with no previous police or military experience.
"Our written test has no law-enforcement questions," he says proudly. "It's reading and comprehension, ethics, essays - everything and anything but criminal law." Koval wants people with good interpersonal and communication skills who are "intrigued by the challenges of problem-solving in the trenches."
Koval has, of course, cultivated officers from other police agencies and the military. "But I probably recruit twice as much at colleges that have liberal arts majors. I don't want us to be a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter force of robotic cops."
It may sound like Koval, the journalism- major-turned-police-officer, is seeking younger versions of himself, and that's probably true to an extent. But the MPD's history of adopting unconventional, politically progressive policies goes back further, to former Chief David Couper's tenure, which lasted from 1972 to 1993.
"I think the groundwork was laid by Chief Couper," says Lt. Kristen Roman, who was trained by Koval. "That was really when the face of the police department changed significantly, most notably in terms of getting women into this profession, but also other minority groups. That's part of what drew me here 20 years ago, and I think draws a lot of people, as well as the philosophy that policing is more about community partnerships and exercising responsibly the authority that we're given."
Koval also credits Couper with instituting a nontraditional, customer-oriented focus: "It was not top-down; it was very inclusive, understanding that beat officers were in a position to accurately assess and gauge the chronic problems in our streets. He enlisted us as coworkers, and that was very forward-thinking three decades ago."
Koval's appreciation for the MPD's approach deepened when he briefly left the department. In 1985, after getting his law degree on the side while working as a rookie cop, he reapplied to the FBI.
"It had been such an objective for me, I felt like I needed to pursue it or I'd look back and say, 'Woulda, coulda, shoulda,'" he says. After graduating from the bureau's training program, Koval was assigned to the reactive crime squad and stationed in Albuquerque, N.M.
Much of his work was on the nearby Indian reservation, which exposed him to deep poverty. It was gratifying - but nowhere near as gratifying as being a cop in Madison. "In Madison, you spent time with the people you were dealing with, above and beyond getting called to a tragedy or crisis," Koval says.
His FBI work was eye-opening in other ways.
"While I waited to find a place in New Mexico, I was staying with two friends who were gay men," he says. One was a real estate agent helping Koval find lodging. (Koval's wife, Jane, a teacher, had stayed in Wisconsin to finish the school year.)
"He would call the office periodically to tell me to go look at a place, and he had a very effeminate voice," recalls Koval. This prompted his FBI partners to question Koval's own sexuality: "They'd say things like, 'Madison has gay people on the police force? You're kidding!' They thought I'd been living in Sodom and Gomorrah, and I'm like, 'You guys are just primeval in your approach!'"
Unfulfilled, and figuring he'd burned a bridge by leaving Madison - Couper had warned him he'd be unhappy at the FBI - Koval applied for positions with the Minneapolis and San Diego police. One night he came home to a message from Couper, asking why those departments were asking for references - and inviting Koval back.
Law and order runs in Koval's family. His younger brother Daniel is Madison's municipal court judge.
When Koval's not on the job, he may be out walking his family's three dogs, reading something with a motivational leadership theme, or watching football or basketball at the home he shares with Jane in Mount Horeb.
The couple moved to Mount Horeb in the mid-1990s because of Koval's short-lived desire to raise horses. "I had this sincerely depraved moment," he says, before describing in unprintable detail the duties involved. But now that the animals are gone, and sons Shawn and Riley - yep, named for the uncle who inspired their dad - are out of the house, Koval says he and Jane may return to Madison.
Often Koval brings his work home with him, making calls to applicants he isn't able to reach during the day. That level of dedication is a big reason the MPD's current chief, Noble Wray, is pleased to have Koval working under him.
Five years ago, the two men were in competition for the same job - as finalists for the chief position after Richard Williams left in 2004.
"When the selection process was going on, as the acting chief, I gave Mike a call, because I have a great deal of respect for him," Wray says. "I let him know that if he was selected, I would do anything I could to support him. And once the selection was made, I believed he could serve me and the department best in the place where he is now, but I wanted him to know that I wasn't going to get in the way if he had an interest in other areas."
For a sergeant to apply for the job of police chief was unusual. A typical candidate would have command experience, as a lieutenant or higher-ranked officer. Koval knew it was a long shot, but he wanted to take constructive action to address a concern.
"I had just come off more than a decade under the Williams regime, which had been very effective in terms of garnering tangible hardware - more cops, more cars, better technology," he says. "But I felt that in those areas in which we had been a pioneer - problem-solving, community policing - we were resting on our laurels. So rather than be one of those people who just bitches about it, I thought I'd take this unique opportunity to explain to the Police and Fire Commission where I thought our strengths were."
In his recruiting and training work, Koval is well suited to carry this mission forward. Wray says applicants are often impressed that the selection process "isn't designed totally to eliminate people." And rejected applicants can not only reapply, they can get in-depth feedback from Koval as to why they didn't make it. Says Wray, "He brings a lot of value to the process."
Koval knows that not everyone in the department agrees.
"I don't know who my critics are exactly, but I think there is a certain segment that feels like we could strip a lot off of the academy and stick to just the bare-bones lessons as enumerated by the state of Wisconsin," he says. "They feel like we do a lot of 'Kumbaya'-singing, hand-holding social work that isn't 'real' police work."
Wray says gripes about Koval's philosophy "would not surprise me," because differences of opinion are to be expected within a group of several hundred people. "We're not looking for clones. We're not looking for diversity only in terms of gender or race. We're also looking for diversity in terms of ideas and perspectives."
To be sure, Koval's recruits aren't trained to shy away from using force. They're supposed to try taking control of a situation first simply by their presence, then through dialogue and only lastly with force. But they know how to use their weapons, and they are taught, in some situations, to shoot to kill.
But Koval also feels it's important to teach officers the less glamorous aspects of policing. He's not alone in that, either.
"Community-oriented police and tactical policing are not mutually exclusive," says Capt. Cameron McLay, who heads the MPD's SWAT team. "We try to teach them simply as tools, and that you use the tools as it's appropriate for the circumstance."
Besides going beyond the 520-hour police-training curriculum prescribed by the state ("If it requires 30 hours on search-and-seizure and constitutional rights, we're going to at least double that"), Koval likes to present recruits with ethical conundrums. And he brings in UW Law School Prof. Mike Scott, a national expert on police problem-solving.
While Koval uses national examples of controversial law-enforcement topics as discussion fodder, he also talks about the MPD's own missteps. And he urges his trainees not to lose touch with the citizens they're supposed to serve and protect.
Koval teaches his charges that reasonableness - a deciding factor in his favorite constitutional amendment, the Fourth, against unreasonable searches and seizures - should be chief among the criteria an officer uses in deciding whether to ticket, arrest or similarly take action against a citizen.
In October, a 31-year-old Madison resident was charged with growing pot and obstructing police after he abruptly broke off a conversation outside his apartment with a police sergeant, went back inside and locked his door. MPD officers broke down the door, shooting his pit bull when it charged at them.
Koval can't comment on pending cases, but says there are only three ways a police officer can legally enter a private home: with consent from the resident or owner; with a warrant signed by a judge; or under "exigent circumstances," which depend on there being both probable cause and a need to take immediate action.
Exigent circumstances is a broad category. For example, the state Supreme Court has said officers can enter a residence from which they can smell marijuana, to prevent the evidence from literally going up in smoke. But Koval says the officer likely would - and should - come under heavy scrutiny for doing so.
Judges, he says, "don't want the police as a matter of routine to do an end-run around the Fourth Amendment. The hands-down preference is that the police secure a warrant whenever possible."
Koval thinks he'll likely retire in about five years. Until then, he'll keep making recruits aware of such preferences.
"I believe that I'm probably viewed by some recruits as this sort of ACLU, tree-hugging guy who has to be endured for six months. And I've come to accept that," Koval says. "But the academy is my opportunity for a bully pulpit, my one last chance to say, 'I want you to come home safe. I want you to understand all the tools that are yours. But take a minute and consider these other dimensions of policing.'"