Culture » Film

Lt. Joe Kenda hangs up his badge with Homicide Hunter's ninth season

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KIM COOK / INVESTIGATION DISCOVERY
  • Kim Cook / Investigation Discovery

Joe Kenda, 73, a retired lieutenant of the Colorado Springs Police Department, has brought a lot of attention to Colorado Springs. Since 2011, the Investigation Discovery television channel has offered an international platform to Homicide Hunter, a program that follows a number of the cases Kenda investigated while he was a detective in our little burg.

It’s unique for a true crime documentary series to focus on one city, especially within such a narrow time frame: between 1973 and 1996. But the crimes themselves are not the most interesting aspect of the show. Utilizing interviews, reenactments and narration by Kenda himself, Homicide Hunter gives viewers an inside look at police investigation, exploring Kenda’s mindset and investigative processes — from examining a crime scene to serving arrest warrants, and even extraditing criminals from overseas.

Kenda’s impressive record provides its own point of interest. He has solved nearly 400 cases, giving him a 92 percent clearance rate (compared to about 62 percent nationally). But it’s his personality that tends to sell the show to viewers. His dry, often monotone delivery and occasional bursts of sass make for a no-nonsense retelling of often horrific crimes, allowing viewers to distance themselves without sacrificing the humanity of the story.

Lorne Kramer, who served as chief of police during Kenda’s time on the force calls Kenda “an excellent investigator,” and adds: “I think [the show] has been good for Colorado Springs. You know, I think it’s been good for law enforcement. I think there’s a curiosity and interest in the public in police shows. I mean, obviously, that’s why so many police shows are so successful. And Joe — Joe took an idea and made it very successful. And I’m very happy for him.”

Local rumor accuses Kenda of taking credit for cases handled by others, but Kramer is skeptical. “I’ve heard the same kind of thing,” he says, “and I’ve just kissed it off. Because that’s not, you know, the impression that I have. And I’ve kept it in context too, because nobody has solved [400] homicides themselves.”



On Aug. 28, Homicide Hunter will begin its ninth and final season. A new show featuring Kenda will premiere on Investigation Discovery in 2020, but the details remain a mystery.

We caught up with Kenda, who is now living in Virginia, to reflect on Homicide Hunter, policing and the public, and whether or not he’s ready to re-join the force.


INVESTIGATION DISCOVERY
  • Investigation Discovery
Indy: What was it like diving back into those cases? Was it difficult emotionally to relive them?

Joe Kenda: It is, but that was why I did it. Ultimately, I was looking for some form of therapy that might work. And the best therapy is to talk about things. And so when I was approached about doing this show, I wasn’t interested initially until I thought maybe it would be helpful to me, for the PTSD purposes, and it has been. It’s — I feel better than I’ve ever felt before. So it’s been worthwhile for me to do this.

There are a lot of crime documentaries out there — and admittedly I watch most of them. What do you think this has brought to TV that wasn’t there before?

I think it provides a positive image for the police. I think it presents a positive image for law enforcement in general. ... And that’s important, particularly in the modern day when we suffer the slings and arrows as we often do, because we are the most visible representative arm of the government. We wear uniforms, and you can see us every day. So there’s a certain amount of animosity built into that sort of thing.



And this kind of programming, I think helps people understand that policemen are humans like them. They have families like they do. They have concerns, they have worries, they have their own children to protect, they have the same things everyone else has. And that’s a positive step.

I have heard rumors that there are some members of CSPD who aren’t happy with the show. Do you know why that would be?

I have no clue. Nor do I have any interest in that. And that’s why they give you a remote. You can change the channel; you can turn it off. My question always was when anyone said that to me, one of my former colleagues, ‘I don’t like the show.’ I said, ‘Oh really? How’s your show doing? Oh, that’s right. You don’t have one of those.’

... The only person I care what they think is me. When I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, and I still like the guy I see, I’m good. I don’t care what anybody else thinks. I never did.

That makes you well-suited for fame, then.

Well, you know, this is a fleeting affair. It always is. There are four stages of fame. In stage one, the director says, ‘Who’s Joe Kenda?’ In stage two the director says, ‘Get me Joe Kenda!’ In stage three, the director says, ‘Get me a young Joe Kenda!’ Stage four the director says, ‘Who’s Joe Kenda?’ I’m well aware of that. It doesn’t matter to me, I had a career that I’m proud of, and this gives me something to fill in my afternoons. But in terms of the fame thing, it’s meaningless.

But hey, you’ve been able to immortalize your biggest cases now, so those are going to be around forever.

Well, it’s not that. I think I try to present things that — people do terrible things to people who certainly don’t deserve it. And no one does. Violent crime and violent death is a horrible thing. And I think it presents to the world something that people find interesting, but it also serves as a provider of a lesson. And the same things you can avoid in your life that could cause you harm.

I’ve gotten two letters in the past two years, separately from different parts of the U.S., from young women, who report, ultimately, the same thing: They were watching the show, and I was describing an abusive male personality. And one girl said in the letter, ‘When you were describing how abusive males behave, resulting in ultimately violent death, I realized that that person was sitting next to me. And I left that relationship, and you saved my life.’ And I had that occur a second time as well. So there’s something to be said for TV.


So we have a sister paper, the Southeast Express, that covers a part of town where many of the crimes on Homicide Hunter occurred. Around town, the Southeast is kind of considered this dangerous area. What do you think of that characterization? Is it warranted?

It’s not a fair characterization. That’s not — it never is. People like to assign reasons why they will come to no harm by announcing that they don’t live in that city, or they don’t live in that state, or they don’t live in that county. But they should understand that they’re still surrounded by humans. And humans are the problem, not the geography, not the neighborhood, not anything else. Who do you associate with and what do you do? What’s your lifestyle consist of?

... It doesn’t matter where you live. Humans, my dear, are everywhere. It’s a huge problem. Yes, it is. Yes, it is; 330 million you can find in this country — that we know about. And the government’s not too good at counting noses. So who knows how many people live here? But there’s a lot.

It doesn’t matter if you’re living in a $650,000 house when the shooting starts. The bullets are still gonna hit you and kill you. Irrespective of the balance in your checkbook or your number of postgraduate degrees.

KIM COOK / INVESTIGATION DISCOVERY
  • Kim Cook / Investigation Discovery
Do you feel like when you were on the force, and nowadays — there’s that tension with police officers understandably being under more scrutiny — How do you think communities feel about the police?
I think there’s always critics of every behavior. One thing, unfortunately, the press trades in is failure. They love failure. ‘The army failed to do this, the post office failed to deliver you your mail, the garbage man failed to empty your can entirely. There’ll be film at 11.’ OK. You know, it’s — so there’s always going to be the Monday morning quarterback. But the difficulty is, they stand in the shadows and whisper. They don’t do anything.

But don’t you think some criticism of the police as an institution is warranted?

Of course. Of course, the difficulty we have as a police department, any police department, is you have to recruit your members from the ranks of the human race. It’s a huge problem. If you could just get those robots to work, oh, man, there’d be no failure. Still problems. But so far, the technology just isn’t there. …

So, obviously, you aren’t going to be heading into a quiet retirement after this. What’s next for you? ... Going to go back into the force? Join up again?

No, I’m too old. They have this pesky rule about age. I don’t understand that but it’s like, OK. Now they say, ‘No, you’re an old guy.’ Yes, I am. … but I’m not at risk of age-related dementia.

You seem to have a pretty darn good memory.

I do, yes, as a matter of fact. It’s a curse in many ways because you remember the bad along with the good, but yes, I do remember everything.

But you still have to go through the case files before the shows, right?
Only to remember middle names. I get those confused. But other than that, no. If you did this work, you wouldn’t have to go through it again, either. You remember. You remember. You tell somebody their mother’s never coming home again, you don’t forget that. You don’t.

Editor’s note: This Q&A was edited for length.


Four ways to avoid being a victim of violent crime
courtesy Lt. Joe Kenda
1. Stay out of bars at closing time.
2. Nothing good happens after midnight.
3. Do not associate with people who buy, use or sell narcotics, and do not buy, use or sell narcotics yourself.
4. Try to marry well — don’t marry a psychotic.

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