Please, Not a Nut

Oh, it's so scary when they name a new chief

Later, Kunkle fired him after the officer was discovered carving notches in the grip of his service weapon. Hey, that's dark.

Should Kunkle have been able to see sooner that this guy had a dark streak and was creating his own bad situations that would lead to fatal outcomes? Well, you can always say that. And newspapers should never make mistakes, and every surgery should be a success. But I don't see anything here that sticks to him.

The point is that somebody wants it to stick. And we can't blame all of that malevolence on insider cop politics, because look at the unbelievably crappy greeting Kunkle got from the city's only daily newspaper the day he was named. The first Dallas Morning News editorial on his appointment derided him because he was hired from the suburbs: "Choosing a guy who spent one-third of his career in Dallas (however illustriously) and never made it farther than the next county smacks of the same old same old, rather than do-it-different," the editorial said.

Incoming Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle
Mark Graham
Incoming Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle

After admitting they didn't know anything bad about him, the editorialistos sneered at the 53-year-old Kunkle for not having commanded a bigger salary or a contract, calling him "the bargain rather than the top rate."


I talked to a guy who is very wired to the Dallas police community and knew Kunkle 22 years ago when he was a Dallas police officer. He said the News could just as easily have viewed Kunkle as the ideal choice: "He doesn't need a road map to find his way around Dallas, but he's not a recent insider, either."

A city council member said the same thing: "He's the perfect insider slash outsider."

The jab about pay seemed especially low. Very competent people are called to public service all the time by a sense of duty, not pay. The smartest, best people do not always go straight for the money. Obviously the guy wants a challenge, or why would he come here?

And it wouldn't have been all that tough for the News to have picked up a phone and done some chats about him before writing. The day after Kunkle was appointed chief in Dallas, Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist O.K. Carter had a fascinating piece in the paper about Kunkle's career in Arlington, all of it very positive and in some detail. Didn't the News have a newspaper in Arlington once?

I spoke with Kunkle on the phone toward the end of the week. I was candid about what I'd been up to--chasing down dirt on his career. He was OK with that. If anything, he is coming to the job with eyes wide open.

"I know the history of the Dallas Police Department going back to 1972," he said. "I think I understand it very well. I know the sins of the department as well as the successes. Certainly I have nobody to blame if it's an untenable situation."

But he says he would not be leaving his post as an assistant city manager in Arlington if he were not confident he can succeed in Dallas. "I keep telling people if I thought I was going to be flogged every day and then fired, I wouldn't have accepted the job."

He ticks off the keys to making success happen: "Leadership, better management practices, the right temperament and judgment, openness, responsiveness to all members of the community including the underclass and people who historically have not gotten representation, trying to make the department more efficient and effective at the same time you protect the interests of the officers.

"All of that can make things better."

Sure. Sounds right. But we have to see you on TV six times not being a nut. And we all understand that the rubber hasn't met the road yet. Not too long after he gets here, he has to do open-heart surgery on the command staff. More like liposuction. I'm already getting little bags of burning dog doo delivered to me with his name on them, and he hasn't even scrubbed yet. What kind of howls will we hear when he picks up a scalpel? And how will he react?

I had a crazy neighbor once. I figured out over the years that you had to let him talk at least 60 full seconds before you could tell if he'd taken his meds. I think Kunkle's at 47 seconds and sounding great.

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