At the helm of Madison Police Department and the city civil court are two brothers who’ve committed themselves to public service.

MPD Chief Mike Koval and Judge Daniel Koval reflect on their time working for the city of Madison and the changes and challenges they’ve witnessed. Within their respective fields, the two said they have worked to make progress on issues of homelessness and racial justice through restorative justice and community policing among other programs.

A family affair

The sons of a professor and school teacher, Mike Koval said his parents instilled in their children a value for public service from an early age. Both Kovals attended Madison West High School before attending University of Wisconsin.

While he had always seen himself working in public service, Mike Koval said his uncle, Shawn Riley, who worked for the Division of Criminal Investigation, inspired him to become police officer. It was Riley who, after years of trying to dissuade a teenage Mike Koval from joining law enforcement, suggested he look into the FBI as they had higher hiring standards.

In his junior year, Mike Koval attended an FBI info session that would steer his career path for years to come. After the session he spoke with the agent while helping him pack up.

“[The agent] said, ‘Listen kid, I’ll be honest with you, we’re really looking for lawyers, accountants and language specialists,’” Mike Koval said. “It was that 30 second exchange that ended with me pursuing a law degree up in the Twin Cities.”

But while Mike Koval saw law school as a means to an end, Daniel Koval pursued a J.D. with the intent of practicing law.

City of Madison

After graduating from UW with a degree in political science, Daniel Koval moved to the Chicago area for 14 years, attended law school and eventually went on to become an assistant state attorney. Like his brother, Daniel Koval said he always envisioned himself working in public service.

“I never wanted to work in a law firm,” Daniel Koval said. “It’s the way our family was — we were raised with the spirit of giving back to the public.”

After returning to Madison with his wife, Daniel Koval became an assistant city attorney before working as city judge in 2004.

Connecting the Madison community

In Minnesota, Mike Koval attended William Mitchell College of Law. Having almost completed his degree, MPD offered him a job that he took while eventually completing his degree at the UW Law School.

During his time at MPD, Mike Koval said he got his first real taste of community police work. But within 12 weeks of completing his degree, Mike Koval was hired by the FBI and worked in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Mike Koval said he could have seen himself working for the FBI his entire life were it not for his time at Madison and factors within the FBI.

“I loved the fresh approach to policing in Madison,” Mike Koval said. “There was a lack attorneys in the bureau and I knew I was going to be assigned legal to affairs.”

MPD Chief Mike Koval at the Madison City Council meeting on March 17, 2015.
Jason Chan/The Badger Herald

Not wishing to actually use his law degree, Mike Koval left the FBI and went back to MPD.

In his time as judge, Daniel Koval said his work with juvenile offenders has been the most rewarding aspect of his job. He said he often finds himself going into schools and meeting with the family and counselors of juveniles to figure out how to solve repeated misbehavior.

Daniel Koval noted working with homeless people to connect them with services and support systems has also been rewarding.

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Mike Koval, who was tapped for police chief in April 2014, said his love for police work in Madison stems from the idea that the police officer is a community activist for the most vulnerable.

“The role of the police as a steward or guardian of the community was very attractive to me,” Mike Koval said.

Despite seeing terrible crimes during his time with the police, Mike Koval said he has maintained his positive outlook by fortifying himself through faith and support from his wife. He said this ability to stave cynicism is critical for police who see “the saddest, baddest [and] maddest of what the human condition has to offer.”

Mike said he believes if an officer ever loses sight of the inherent good of humanity, then it’s probably time to retire.

MPD takes pride in both its reputation for community policing and for its transparency and lack of corruption. Mike Koval said the department achieves this by striking a balance between the traditional ideals of comradery and those of independence and integrity.

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Creating change

Since beginning their work on both sides of the law, Daniel and Mike Koval said they have seen significant changes within their professions.

For Daniel Koval, the inability for many people to afford their own attorneys when pursuing civil cases means far more people are representing themselves in court, which delays the process. This means the courts must do their best to explain the rules and technical specifications surrounding court proceedings in layman’s terms.

Mike Koval said the role of the police officer within society has changed greatly since he began working as an officer. He said the duties of an officer increasingly revolve around being a mediator, healer and a social worker.

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“This is a paradigm shift that is rarely seen in media or in movies; you just see the drama because that’s sexy,” Mike Koval said. “We are social workers with a badge, and you have to have that mindset to be responsive to the community.”