Captain Diane Walker
One-On-One With Captain Diane Walker L.A. County Sheriffs 1st African American Female Captain, Compton Station
By Sentinel Staff Report
Lieutenant Diane Walker made history on August 16 when Sheriff Lee Baca appointed her the first African American, female Captain of the department’s Compton Station. Her new rank is a strong testament to her 30-year career in law enforcement. She has served publicly in the capacities of Deputy, Sergeant and Lieutenant, and privately as a wife (to community activist Tony Wafford) and mother to two daughters.
One glance at Captain Walker rewards the onlooker with a beautiful face, pleasant smile and approachable persona. Look a little closer and one finds that persona is backed by intelligence, layered with good work ethics, and topped with compassion and understanding. And these are all qualities that Compton residents need in their top law enforcer.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Sentinel, Captain Walker detailed her love for law enforcement, how unwavering support from her family helps to make it all possible, and her journey through history.
LAS: How did you break into law enforcement?
DW: As the youngest of four children, I grew up in a Sheriffs area, in Athens, and was influenced early on and wanted to join. My mother was a secretary for the Los Angeles Police Department for many years and that exposed me. I was never raised with a fear of the police because I never had negative contact with them. Also, that was in the 1970s and a pivotal thing that made me believe I could get into law enforcement was seeing positive portals of Black people on television. It was such an anomaly. We were in the era of “Julia” and all those Black shows, and we’d never seen ourselves on T.V. in a positive light.
There was a show called “Get Christie Love.” She was a Black woman, who was a LAPD detective. She was pretty, dressed well and could talk well. I was very intrigued by that show. Also, I grew up with wonderful Southern parents who never told me I couldn’t do anything. They were always encouraging and supportive.
LAS: When did you begin your relationship with the L.A. County Sheriffs Department?
DW: I started as an Explorer at 15-years-old at the Lennox Station. They were trying to create a career path for local youth and minorities through a federal grant program that helped employ youth for the summer. I applied to become a law enforcement intern when I was 18. I believe my steps were truly ordered. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I got the job, my first true paying job, and earned $780 a month in 1978. My work ethic and parents’ upbringing made me stay on the job. I had no intentions on leaving.
LAS: How did you transition from an intern to a full deputy?
DW: I worked as an intern for about 18 months and became exposed to different departments. For a moment, I worked with the Culver City Police Department as a dispatcher, and then applied at age 20 to become a Sheriff’s deputy and was hired right away.
LAS: What have been some of your challenges and triumphs along the way as a Black and female deputy?
DW: Honestly, when you’re raised to think that’s just the way it is and you have to be stronger, better, faster, I never saw it as a challenge. I never had a mindset of woe is me, poor is me. I’m a black woman. Oh God. The only time I had any clues throughout my years that I might not have been treated fairly was after the Sexual Harassment and Equal Rights employment case decisions. I discovered, in retrospect, that they were making derogatory statements and treating me any differently. I always expected to have to work hard and get along.
LAS: What is the greatest part of your work day?
DW: I’ve been afforded a lot of opportunities to help Black people and be a role model for young Black people. I learned in retrospect how important it is for young people to see Black people in positions of importance. Especially, because I have two daughters, they need to see me surviving, happy and doing what I love. One of the reasons I love it so much is I have the opportunity to work in the community, I come to work happy. I remind my deputies and supervisors that we set the tone. So if come to work and bicker and act ugly and mad I can’t expect them to go out there and treat people right.
LAS: So this isn’t just a job for you?
DW: No. This has opened so many doors for me. This is the first time in history that there’ve been three African American females, appointed to the rank of Captain in the Sheriff’s Department. We’re all friends, all grew up in the Athens/Compton area and we all work right here. Captain Oceal Victory, at the Marina Del Rey Station and Captain Bernice Abram, at the Carson Station.
LAS: How does such an authoritative post impact your marriage to a strong Black man?
DW: Not at all. It took me three times to get it right. Tony tells me that I’ve got to be almost schizophrenic, because I have to temper myself and turn into something different. By nature, any way, I’m not a macho and over-bearing woman. It’s not my personality but it is a dance and a tenuous one because you have to go from almost cursing people out in the street and then come home and be mommy. For years my children didn’t know what I did for a living. I never wore my uniform home because I wanted them to see me as mommy.
LAS: What is your message for young girls that may read this?
DW: What I teach my daughters, that in order for you to be happy with anybody in any situation, you have to be happy with yourself first. My mother died when I was pretty young but I learned from her that there’s so much value in setting goals for yourself. Get a personal relationship with God and surround yourself with the kind of people you think you want to become and you’ll either find out you want to become that or you don’t, but it’s not always about money. I will never get rich working for the Sheriff’s Department, but I’m rich with experience and life.
LAS: Thank you.