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Chief Koval's Blog

Staying True to One's Values

February 5, 2016 2:13 PM

One of the things that I relish doing as Chief is spending time with our recruits at the Training Center.  Having spent seventeen years with the Personnel and Training Team, I can certainly attest to the fact that these aspiring police officers come to us filled with resolve and hope, emphatic in their desire to make a difference as guardians to our community.  This unbridled optimism is contagious and serves to re-energize all of our collective batteries as we hearken back to our own formative years in this noble profession!

It is said that in administering to the needs of a sound police agency, a chief must pay particular heed to the elements of the three "P's:" personnel, policy, and procurement.  But of these three, personnel is far and away the foundation for everything that follows--whether it is commissioned staff or non-sworn civilians.  With respect to our officers bound for the field, unless we commit ourselves fully to the proposition of hiring women and men of impeccable character and values, train them in the best practices known to our calling, and keep them inspired and proficient through ongoing education and direction, all of the other "p's" are superfluous.  At the end of the day, a department is going to be defined not by mission statements and the number of "countables" (i.e., cars, computers, radios, etc.); a department will be known by the actions demonstrated by a work force that is entrusted to meet and exceed community expectations.

The "mechanics" of policing are skill sets that can be mastered through good instruction, well-coached repetitions, scenario-based applications, constructive feedback, and one-to-one mentoring in the field with veteran officers who are committed to having prospective colleagues learn how to take the "academy" teachings and translate them into the reality of what is encountered in the streets.  Mastering these dimensions is vitally important to an officer's ability to keep citizens and themselves safe.  But it is equally important that we continue to go to great efforts at instilling what I refer to as those "premium" areas of instruction that are focused on professional communication, crisis intervention, mental health delivery options, ethics, constitutional safeguards and limits on police powers, exploring the implications of officer discretion, noting the role of unconscious bias and how it can result in unintended consequences if not properly monitored,  and community policing with a particular emphasis placed on engagement and problem solving.  It is these "premium" subject areas that will ultimately lead to better resolutions when dealing with individuals who are often our "maddest, saddest, and baddest" on a call.  When you have a job that encounters the human condition under the worst of circumstances, it is the knowledge of those options gleaned during the "premium" training that will ultimately lead to better outcomes.

When I left Training to become Chief, I retained my prerogative to continue to instruct the recruits in constitutional law and procedure.  Through this portal, I can impress upon my novitiates the necessity to retain our optimism and the capacity to do the right things without limiting yourself to "safe" and predictable resolutions (i.e., ticket and/or arresting).  Being in the Academy provides me with both a captive audience as well as impressionable minds who can grasp that our "cop culture" need not be the self-fulfilling prophecy that is seen played out in the most dire of circumstances on television and social media.  We need not fall prey to the militaristic/warrior images of policing that generate sensational, tabloid-style headlines portraying police behaving badly.

I tell the recruits time and again that I do not ever want them to succumb to being a robotic cop, who feels that conformity to a "culture" is greater than the individuality, values, and people skills that they brought to the application process and for which they were hired.

For the past several academy classes, on the week that recruits are sworn in and take the oath of office, I assign a very important homework assignment.  The recruits are asked to reflect upon the oath that was probably recited in record speed owing to the pageantry and excitement of the first day, surrounded by their families, and hosted by luminaries as they begin their lengthy training. We talk about that pledge and what it means to be fully committed in adhering to it.  I then share with them a personal mission statement that I crafted years ago that is placed at eye level on my locker at work . . .it is the first thing I see/read when coming to work and the last thing that I see when ending my day.  My personal mission statement incorporates our oath as well as some additional prompts that are meaningful to me.  I also use a pneumonic reminder that is printed below that incorporates an image of St. Michael the Archangel, who serves as the patron saint to law enforcement officers.


I, _________________, do affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin, and the Charter of the City of Madison, and will perform the duties of Police Officer in and for the City of Madison to the best of my ability.  I so affirm.

G:         Go For It!  Our profession is not a spectator sport!  Remember the pride you have in serving others, especially the most vulnerable in our midst.

R:         Respect!  For the people I will encounter on a daily basis, my co-workers, and our vocation.  Let your ethics guide the choices you make – everyday in everyway with every one.

O:        Own it!  Accept responsibility for my mistakes and learn from them.  There is a "race" issue in our society – the "human" race and none of us is perfect.  Therefore, don't be so critical of others and allow for forgiveness (of yourself and others).

W:        What's Important?  Am I being faithful to my oath, my family, my friends?  Witness to others what it means to be a consummate MPD professional – both on and off-duty.

T:         Trust!  In the human condition (People are basically good, they like the police, and appreciate our efforts).  Trust the circle of friends and family you have to keep you centered and allow them the space to note the changes they may be seeing in you. 

H:         Health and Wellness:  Our profession is a communion of mind and body.  Attitude is everything and it permeates everything we touch.  Officer safety skills are highly perishable and must be maintained!  You owe it to yourself and the ones you love and care about. 


After providing the recruits with my example, their homework is to fashion their own, personalized, mission statement.  The statement should reflect what they hope will reflect their ideals today and will serve as a beacon decades from now in reminding them why they chose to take on this challenging profession.  Once the homework is collected a week later, I have the personal mission statements laminated and filed away until graduation day.  On graduation night, each recruit is asked which person is most likely to be their "rock" or moral compass who will not be deterred in calling them out should they ever make mistakes or go astray (or start to change . . .for the "worse").  (For me, that special person is my best friend, my confidant, my wife-Jane.  Jane has no compunction in calling me out when appropriate and hell hath no fury like that of my spouse should I lose my focus).

I then have the recruit escort me to that certain special someone (it may be parents, a sibling, a friend, a partner) and I present a laminated copy of the personal mission statement with a special admonishment:  "X has chosen you to be the bearer of this important values statement.  It serves as an important reminder of those important reasons that drew them to this profession and they want YOU to hold them to these ideals.  In so doing, you are helping them to remain true to their oath and to themselves when it is time to leave or retire."  Each recruit will also get a copy for themselves to place (I hope) in a conspicuous spot to serve as a reminder.

I know that this exercise will probably strike some as being hokey.  But I do believe that continually reinforcing the values and the mission statements of both the MPD as well as reminding our employees who they were when they arrived and how they want to leave us is worthy of  all of our efforts,  all of the time! 


Posted by: Chief Koval

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