For the record, Kirk Munden, who had retired several years ago as one of HPD’s executive assistant chiefs, will go down as an administrator who never forgot who he was and where he came from.
He was a patrol officer from the streets of Houston.
Plenty of testimony exists to provide every-day examples. Few people from the HPD family could tell this story better than recently retired Assistant Chief Don McKinney and retired Officer Paul Hershey, a best friend who stayed with Munden and his family at the hospital in the widely respected retired executive assistant chief’s final days.
“He was just the penultimate leader,” McKinney told the Badge & Gun. “Anything and everything he did he did so with the focus on the cops.
“He was always concerned how they would receive any change, how it would affect them and how they would interpret it – because he was a cop. There was an uncanny ability he had going when he dealt with the perception or impact (of a new policy). He would be more concerned with telling them (cops) why instead of just putting it out there.
“He was like God to most of the cops out there – somebody that any true leader should try to emulate.”
Munden died Dec. 12 after suffering a head injury at his home 11 days earlier. Chief McKinney delivered his eulogy. Munden had been tapped to return to HPD as the civilian chief of staff to Police Chief Art Acevedo.
“He had a great sense of humor,” McKinney said. “He would laugh and say that Harold Hurtt was the greatest chief in HPD history because he promoted him to assistant chief and, later, to executive assistant chief.”
McKinney, who retired just before the New Year, said, “There are thousands of examples” of the way Chief Munden communicated to police officers sincerely and effectively over the years. He also addressed each issue with proper sensitivity.
McKinney was asked to cite an example.
“If you remember,” he said, “he revamped the entire funeral procedures for officers killed in the line of duty. The department wanted to be in the lead with planning these services but Kirk wanted to go to the family to make sure they were okay with what we wanted to do. He wanted to be more sensitive to what the families wanted instead of what the department wanted.”
As a result, there has been better communications when this dire need arises, as the result of Munden’s efforts to ensure that “a family decision” involved one family – the department and that of the brave officer. Or, as McKinney put it, “Decisions involved the family and the department and that’s the way it should be: How can we best honor the family?”
McKinney described his long-time fellow Command Staff member and friend as the epitome of rock solid integrity. What you saw and heard was what you got. The retired assistant chief quoted a Munden admirer and retired Homicide sergeant, thusly:
“Chiefs tend to become political animals but he bridged that gap. He stayed grounded and remembered from where he came. He remembered being a cop and how the decisions made at the upper levels could impact them. He always had that in the back of his mind.”
Hershey joined HPD in 1982 and remembered that he and Munden became officers for the same reason as most of their colleagues – “we joined to catch crooks.”
In those early days it was about working out and staying in shape. Hershey said Munden had this bright idea to form a rugby club made up of “a bunch of eager cops” who maybe had played football but were unfamiliar with rugby.
“That was something he kinda got us all in the middle of whether we wanted to or not,” the former rugby player said. “We played rugby clubs from all over the bay area. We were in a league with several other local clubs.
“We played Rice and the University of Houston, other colleges and mainly local clubs. We were the Keystone Rugby Club.”
The Keystone club played about three seasons before “most of us hung up our cleats.”
Hershey cited the rugby experience as one example of the way Munden’s dedication, motivation and enthusiasm made him an effective leader.
The two spent time in patrol together before each took on different career paths: Hershey spent 18 years in SWAT while Munden became a sergeant and started ably climbing the HPD career ladder with rungs at the lieutenant and captain ranks before Hurtt promoted him to assistant and executive assistant chief.
“One thing everybody will tell you is that he was able to do that and never forget where he came from,” Hershey recounted.
He laughed when he recalled how Munden felt when there was an opening at the assistant chief level. He said he told Munden that he was a shoe-in, prompting him to say, “Nah. I’ve pissed off enough people along the way that that’s not going to happen. Plus, I’m pretty happy where I am.”
Well, he got the promotion. One of his first moves was to ask his SWAT buddy to work under him. “Brother,” Hershey replied, “I don’t know anything about being a budget guy or working in administration in a chief’s office.” Munden replied, “I don’t know anything about being an Assistant Chief, but we’ll figure it out”.
Munden was undaunted and he brought Hershey into the fold.
“There wasn’t any job or assignment that he would shy away from,” Munden’s retired budget officer said. “He accepted the challenges and remained a man of impeccable integrity.”
Hershey made it clear that when Munden learned of specific needs at the division or unit level, even if the division was not under his direct command, he worked until he found the funding on one line or another in a complex document called the HPD budget.
And this chief loved every minute of helping cops find what they needed to do a better job of catching crooks. He deflected compliments or credit and always pointed to others involved in the decision-making process.
“In my opinion,” Hershey said, “he’s the best operational leader that the HPD has ever had in the time I’ve been affiliated with it. This is largely due to the fact he listened to the facts and processed what he heard and saw and used it to make decisions that were forward thinking and not knee jerk or detrimental.”