A chief with gravitas: Berryville police officers remember late Chief Muniz
In 2009, Beryville Police Officer Jim Ross had an injury that threatened to take him out of the line of duty. Ross was 60 at the time and feared he'd have to retire from a job he loved. To his surprise, Chief David Muniz didn't tell him to do that.
"He had every right to tell me to retire, but he let me stay. It's 2016 now. I can't tell you how much I appreciated that," Ross said.
Ross said Muniz, who died last week after fighting cancer, was a tough leader but always showed his officers he cared about them. Officer Kevin Disheroon agreed, recalling how Muniz would reward officers for a job well done.
"He'd leave something on your desk. It would be a letter of recommendation, and it would go in our file," Disheroon said.
When Muniz praised officers, Disheroon said he did it in public. Reprimanding officers, he noted, happened in private.
"We all messed up. When it was time to be rough on you, he would be. You'd go into his office, the door was shut and you'd know real quick where you stood," Disheroon said.
Muniz's frank attitude, Office Cody Boren said, is what he admired so much about him.
"He never raised his voice or yelled but he'd talk in a manner that you'd know you did something wrong," Boren said.
If he had to choose one word to describe Muniz, Disheroon said he'd choose "professional." Disheroon recalled how Muniz always appeared professional, even when he was battling illness later in life.
"He was sharp. He looked like he meant business," Disheroon said.
Still, Ross noted, Muniz wouldn't hesitate to joke around. Ross remembered working the graveyard shift and being called about a naked woman running through the woods screaming. The woods were pretty far away from where he was when he got the call, but Ross said he mislabeled his start and finish times on his police log the next day.
"The chief was looking at my day's log and he said, 'Officer Ross, I want to praise you on your 26-second response to that naked woman call,' " Ross laughed. "That's the way he was."
"He had a good balance," Disheroon agreed. "He didn't mind cutting up and having a good time, but when it came time for business he was all business."
Boren pointed to Muniz's hiring process as an indication of the chief's character. When hiring new officers, Boren said Muniz asked them in detail about their personal lives. Muniz even called the wives of new hires to let them know what he expected of their husbands. Boren remembered when Muniz called his wife, saying he wasn't quite prepared for it.
"She was in a changing room at the mall and I had her purse. Her phone rang and it was a number I didn't recognize," Boren said. "I didn't know his voice. I was like, 'Who the heck is this calling my wife?' I kind of had a sharp attitude on the phone before he said it was Chief Muniz. Then I said, 'Oh, Chief, how are you sir?'"
When speaking with an officer's wife, Disheroon explained, Muniz was pretty straightforward.
"He'd tell them, 'If he ever mistreats you -- if he ever messes around on you -- call me at home and I'll deal with it at work,'" Disheroon said. "He always said your professional life reflects your personal life."
When Boren was sworn in to the Berryville Police Department, he said Muniz described what he looks for in an officer.
"He said he likes to hire officers with a level of gravitas. I'd never heard that word until I met the chief. It's a term used for dignity, respect, honor and seriousness while at your post," Boren said. "That's probably how I'd describe the chief as well. He definitely had that."
Because of Muniz's strict hiring policy, Boren said there's little to no turnover at the department. Berryville police officers, he said, are either going to die or retire in Berryville. Officer Craig Hicks agreed, saying Muniz worked hard to create a pleasant environment at the department.
"He built it so it's a family," Hicks said.
Muniz was the chief of police for 35 years and touched many lives in that time. In fact, Disheroon said, a Berryville police officer couldn't attend a training class anywhere without someone asking how Muniz was doing.
"I think our reputation statewide is as a professional, squared-away department and that's all because of him," Disheroon said.
Even as he got sick, Ross said Muniz retained his sense of humor. Ross recalled visiting Muniz in the hospital with other officers in October, believing Muniz was on his deathbed.
"Nobody knew what to say. The chief started talking and he said, 'We all come from a family of long livers. Mine's about this long,'" Ross said. "This is a man that's about to die and he's cracking jokes about the size of his liver. He was quite a guy."
Disheroon reported bonding more with Muniz over the past year, saying he and Muniz had several long talks about their personal lives. He noted that Muniz was a very private person.
"He opened up a lot more to me. I won't forget that," Disheroon said.
"We all had so much respect for him," Disheroon continued. "He set the standard for the police department."