When a big-city police chief announces a sudden early retirement, you expect a lot questions -- most of which begin with "Why ...". Apparently, they were all answered last night. This morning's press conference at Dallas Police Department HQ was more like an event held in honor of everybody's favorite grandfather who's decided it's time to collect his gold watch and move along.
The TV cameras arrived early and set up inside the press room in police headquarters. Members of the press sat around talking about where they were last night when they got the call that David Kunkle was going to announce his retirement today. A broadcast reporter, whisking her straight black hair out of her face, said that as soon as she told her husband, he flipped out, picked up the phone and threatened to dial all of his buddies in the apartment building. "I was, like, whatever," she said.
Officers in uniform approached two white-haired colleagues in blue suits holding Styrofoam cups filled with coffee. "How you doing?" one cop asked.
"We're hangin' in there," said one white-haired man. "'Bout all we can do."
"Yeah, when I heard last night ... oh, man."
"Not a good day," said the man in the suit, looking down and shaking his head.
More police officers walked inside the spacious room; most found a spot along the back walls and stood alone, frowning, their arms folded across their chests. Former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, in a fitted white jacket and black slacks, eased into the room and found a seat near the entrance. She was greeted by one person after the next. A woman, as if inspired by the day's announcement, began sharing her personal employment woes.
"It's all just corporate disagreements," she said.
Miller nodded, looked uncomfortable and quickly excused herself from the room.
With the room filled with about 100 onlookers, Kunkle emerged from behind the shoulders of several officers. Lt. Andy Harvey briefly took the podium and called to the stage a number of people Kunkle has requested, among them Miller. "This is going to be his show today," Harvey said.
To loud applause, Kunkle took the podium. His wife, former KTVT-Channel 11 reporter Sarah Dodd, dressed in a purple dress with heels and loose blond curls, stood close by. Throughout the proceedings, she kept a sympathetic and devoted gaze focused on her husband.
Kunkle began by thanking everybody in the room. Then, the media. Then, his wife. "I wanted to thank my wife Sarah. She is the love of my life. I would not have met her if I had not, um, taken the position in Dallas. So I'm always ..."
"One of the best ... the best thing about the job," said Kunkle. Again, more laughter.
Kunkle repeated what he had already told media outlets. He always planned to leave at a time when he could depart still with dignity. "Also, I wanted to have the ability to help, ah, define the circumstances and terms in which I'm leaving ... Also in certain jobs there's a need to wipe the slate clean every so often."
The audience watched Kunkle intently, as though they were guests at a special performance. The audience laughed softly when Kunkle referred to his pending availability if anybody's hiring. Kunkle's left eye teared up behind this thick glasses when he asked his assistants to come and stand by him so he could thank them.
After nearly 20 minutes, Kunkle invited the media to ask questions. After a few soft lobs his way, one reporter asked, "What's the biggest challenge for the person who steps in next?"
Without hesitation, Kunkle answered: "Crime, morale and dealing and working with the community." Before the reporter could ask a follow-up -- such as, oh, "Is that why you left?" -- Kunkle clarified his response: "I don't think they would change, as far as those are the big issues, and every one can trip you up."
Kunkle did mention that the next police chief might not run as transparent an operation as he has.
Suddenly, a man standing behind Kunkle, collapsed to the floor. Kunkle looked over the heads of the seated audience to the officers in uniform standing against the wall. "Somebody call DFR," he said calmly.
Awkwardly, Laura Miller took the podium and tried to keep the show going, with a smile on her face. But after a few words, groaning came from the corner where Jack Hammack lay on the ground surrounded by officers. She inched away from the podium and tried to look over the shoulders of those around Hammack. "Is Jack OK?" Miller left the stage, which, for a long while, sat empty.
After several minutes, Lt. Harvey steppd to the mic and said that the former Highland Park mayor was, indeed, just fine; he asked to wrap up the press conference quickly. Now only Laura Miller and Chief Kunkle stood on stage.
"You were always highly ethical," said Miller, reading off a list of compliments. "You were unfailingly even-tempered. Your guidepost was always fairness, and you never wavered from that."
At that, Chief Kunkle's expression changed. He had been standing sternly, his eyes seemingly enlarged through his thick glasses, with his left arm clutching his right wrist. The corners of his mouth, which naturally hang at the edges, raised briefly in a subtle smile.
Dodd coughed softly and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue; a news photographer swiveled toward her for a shot. Miller took a seat alongside her, and the two listened as Kunkle closed the press conference. Dodd turned to Miller and asked if her mascara was OK. Miller nodded and clutched Dodd's arm. Dodd looked up at Miller, all smiles and tears, before turning her attention back to Kunkle.