Former MPD Chief: Actions in Arrest Video “Not Appropriate,” “Unacceptable”

    David Couper

    Former Madison Police Chief David Couper called into question the leadership and training of the Madison Police Department in the wake of a viral video showing two MPD officers violently beating 18-year-old Genele Laird during her arrest for disorderly conduct.

    “If this was your daughter, would you approve of this kind of treatment?” he asked.

    Couper, a former Marine who served as chief of Madison police from 1972 until he retired in 1993, said he doesn’t think the officers’ actions were appropriate.

    “Is it appropriate and proportional to give a knee-strike, MMA style, to the torso of an 18 year old girl? No,” he said in an interview with Madison365. “People say she had a knife, or that she spit on the officer, or that she was unruly. I don’t care. It’s not appropriate.”

    But he doesn’t necessarily lay all the blame on the officers at the scene.

    “We talk a lot about the need for police to control situations, we talk a lot about the fact that these are trained techniques,” he said. “That could well be. I don’t think they’re bad officers. I think they’re trained wrong. They’re following their training and the community is outraged.”

    Couper, who has written several books on policing and police reform and maintains the “Improving Police” blog, said the officers may have just been doing what they thought was expected of them.

    “I don’t think they’re bad officers. I think they’re trained wrong.”

    “There’s another thing that goes along with training and that’s leadership,” he said. “What do the officers think the chief wants them to do?”

    Former Madison Police Chief David Couper
    Former Madison Police Chief David Couper

    Couper is now an Episcopal Priest at St. Peter’s Church in North Lake, near Oconomowoc. He dismisses the notion that policing is more dangerous now than it was when he was an officer.

    “Chief Koval says I’m out of touch,” he said. “There’s some indication that there’s been some changes, but in terms of dangerousness in the job it’s about the same.”

    Couper said the narrative around this incident follows a familiar pattern.

    “If it goes down against a person of color, the community is upset. The police respond by saying what a bad person it was they arrested,” he said. “Who’s got standing to stand up and say that’s wrong? People who are cops don’t speak up because you get ostracized when you do. Even I feel the pressure there.

    “People have to start speaking up, they have to get together. This isn’t my charge to lead,” he said, though he plans to join and support others in speaking out. “The community has to say this is unacceptable. I think it has to be the black community who stands up to say this is unacceptable.”

    Madison Police representatives did not respond to a request for comment.