Chief Koval's Blog

MPD's Best Strategy in Fostering Trust

December 16, 2014 1:02 PM

As our nation struggles with looking to improve measures taken to provide for greater transparency, accountability, and sensitivity of our police toward the citizens we are sworn to protect and serve, I have been asked what steps are being taken by MPD.  While there is no one-size-fits-all cure-all, my major point of emphasis has always been (and forever will be) quite simple:  recruit diverse people who view policing from a perspective different than the norm, provide training that places a particular focus on fostering a culture of caring, maintain a workplace where bad behavior(s) can be called out by those not fearful of a "blue code of silence," and continually revisit and reinforce our commitment to making our core values mean something beyond lofty rhetoric.  A tall order, to be certain, but one which I am proud to support and defend as MPD boldly continues to not only "talk the talk" but to "walk the walk."  But the essential elements to our success are rooted in who we recruit, how the training is delivered, and what are the areas of training that will be given our highest priority. The commentary which follows will attempt to illustrate how the MPD has/is/will be a progressive in the midst of a historically stoic and slow-to-change profession.

First, our recruiting campaign is conducted on a national scale and does not require that an individual have any academic training or life/work experience in the field of criminal justice.  We do not want to limit our pool to only those who have tasted from the same well.  As a result, each recruit class has a phenomenal range of scholastic interests (literally everything from anthropology to zoology) and the profile of our classes reflects someone with the following characteristics:  average age is 29, has a bachelor's degree (mostly non-criminal justice), about a quarter of the class will have a master's (or are pursuing one), and has profound work/ life/travel/community service/volunteer experience(s).  Many have second language proficiency.  About 30% of our cops are women (compared with the national average of 12%) and roughly 20% of our force is people of color (which is roughly commensurate with the demographics of Madison).  Am I satisfied with the results of the composition of our class(es)?  Emphatically: no.  We can and must continue to make strides in this arena.  It makes all the difference in the world to have the face(s) of our officers mirror the faces of our community.  It represents an opportunity for more connectivity and approachability.

The testing we do in our hiring process provides another layer in ensuring we are getting people who are a compatible "fit" for our community.  There is no bias toward those who do not have a criminal justice background; the written testing does not ask one single question that would require a knowledge of terms or procedures unique to "law enforcement;" it is a general vocabulary and reading comprehension exam.  There are essays to be written (both take-home as well as "timed"), oral boards before a representative sampling of the community, an interview for job compatibility with a psychiatrist, and an interview with the Chief.  While there are other critical steps along the way (i.e., a physical agility exam and a comprehensive background investigation), all of these steps are intentional with an eye toward identifying those candidates who truly "get us" as a department committed to trust-based, community policing with a heavy emphasis on relational skills, critical thinking, problem solving, upholding constitutional rights, and ethics (every day in every way).  The process is also designed to weed out the "John/Joan Wayne's of the world; adrenaline-dumping "cowboys" who pursue this job solely as a thrill-seeking mechanism of the stuff portrayed (regrettably) in much of our movie and television caricatures.  Frankly, I am looking for social workers with a badge, not badge-heavy, top-down, officious personalities who can single-handedly bring down an entire Department's reputation and credibility in our neighborhoods.

Once hired, the training we provide is another "difference-maker."  Our Academy is taught entirely in-house, is NOT a residential boot camp, and is not based on a militaristic platform.  The hours are generally Monday-Friday, 8a-4p, with evenings and weekends left to the recruit to go home and decompress; to spend time with as many people possible who are NOT cops!  We do not want our recruits to eat, sleep, and think about "cop-world" on a 24/7 basis!  In fact, we encourage recruits to build their stable of friends and associations beyond the world of MPD precisely because we do not want them to succumb to the temptation of finding themselves unwittingly drawn into an artificial (and unhealthy) world of "us" versus "them."

With respect to the training, it begins with a curriculum vetted by the State of Wisconsin's Law Enforcement Standards Board that is currently running 520 hours (this is subject to an expansion of over 700 hours by next May).  While MPD follows the path of certification that others must in order to have our officers certified, our Academy runs closer to 800++ hours; this gives us the opportunity to far exceed the State's requirements in those areas where we want to place an even greater emphasis.  Topics like crisis intervention, law, ethics, professional communication, cultural competency, and unconscious bias are but a few of the examples where MPD goes well beyond what is required.  Furthermore, once a recruit has completed the in-house, State certified courses, they then are paired with a field training officer who assists them in taking the lessons learned in the Academy and applies it in the field.  Field training lasts four months!  In other words, a recruit officer in the City of Madison is trained in "best practices" for nine months before even being allowed to become a solo practitioner!  This arduous, labor-intensive scrutiny typically yields some attrition, but the end-product is an officer that is fundamentally prepared for the tasks that await in Patrol.

Once in the field, training for our officers occurs on an ongoing basis.  The State requires a minimum of 24 hours per year to remain certified; most of our officers exceed this threshold.  And the areas of training reflect real world dynamics that can oftentimes fuel contentiousness and contribute to the malaise that some hold toward the police.  We have had classes that build upon the subject matter instructed in the Academy, so classes relating to relational skill sets are not merely a proposition of "one-and-done" lectures but continually revisited, reviewed, critiqued and reinforced.

Beyond hiring decisions and ongoing training priorities, we also have a vigorous template for ensuring quality control and assurance.  When employees--both sworn and non-sworn---are not measuring up to appropriate behavior(s) in our Code of Conduct or have violated other policies or procedures, they are held accountable.  For example, MPD has a full-time Professional Standards Unit, staffed by a Lieutenant and Sergeant, who are tasked with investigating complaints generated by both outside sources as well as our own employees.  With 455 cops and over one hundred civilians who support and complement the work being done in the field, there have been times when employees have not lived up to our and the community's expectations--and there is a cost associated with that.  But fortunately, it has been my experience with over thirty years experience on MPD, is that when you take timely action, acknowledge your mistakes, say you're sorry (when appropriate), and ask for redemption, the community is generally very forgiving.  They know that none of us are perfect and it is the nature of this job--often making decisions amidst tense and rapidly evolving situations--that can lead to unintended consequences or flawed outcomes.  But when a department obfuscates, denies, minimizes, rationalizes or discounts the public harm that has occurred, this is a recipe for mistrust and certainly bodes ill for creating working partnerships with stakeholders that we desperately need to solve problems of mutual concern.

All of the foregoing reflections boil down to a relatively simple calculus for me. When I was recruiting for MPD, I looked to four elements when hunting for a "prototype" or "model" officer.  These four areas of scrutiny are still critically important as I now have the power to select from a pool of talented candidates.  I refer to these as the four "C's":  a potential officer with MPD must be exemplary in character, competency, caring, and commitment.  Unless all of these are present and in abundance, I will take a pass and move on to the next hopeful.   From both a risk management standpoint as well as a mandate from the community to find only the "best and the brightest," I can do no less...

Posted by: Chief Koval

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