April 2016:

The City of Beckley [welcomed] its first black female police officer  — a lifelong Beckley resident, 24-year-old Charlene Diggs. 

She and four other young, soon-to-be officers — Alex McGhee, Jim McNeely, Logan Christian and Naomi Cook — introduced themselves and shared their excitement about joining the force Tuesday night at the Beckley Common Council meeting. 

Currently, Beckley only employs one female officer, but this round of potential hires brings with it not one, but two females, a rare occurrence in law enforcement, said Chief Lonnie Christian. 

“It is a very male dominated career,” Diggs agreed. “But as a female, I do feel there are some things I might be able to handle better. I know the guys will have my back, regardless, and I’m going to have their backs, regardless.”

She’s not scared or intimidated by being one of the few women in this career locally. But she was surprised to know she’s the first female minority for the city. 

“I knew there weren’t many women, but I didn’t know I’d be the first female minority… Me being the first female minority is a huge deal. With that, I may be able to do a lot of public speaking, to put myself out there to help the community.”

She hopes to be able to foster trust and understanding, to bridge the gap between the minority community and the police department. She said she hopes to gain the community’s support, and for residents to see they must support law enforcement officers for them to successfully do their jobs. 

“As a minority, you can’t help change the system if you don’t get involved in the system,” Diggs said. “That was a big aspect to me, if I want to change something, I’ve got to do something about it.”

Many minorities have grown to fear law enforcement, Diggs said, but she wants to change that, to help them feel safe and protected when they see an officer. 

Additionally, she said she hopes to bring a sense of safety back to the City of Beckley, so parents can let their children play outside again without fear. 

“Hopefully we can get these kids back playing outside, riding their bikes without worrying, ‘Am I going to get robbed?’ ‘Am I going to get shot riding down the street?’ Hopefully we can help change that perspective. Hopefully I can bring that to the table.”

She graduated in May 2013 from Bluefield State College with her degree in criminal justice administration with a concentration in law enforcement. 

She currently works at KISRA (Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Action) as a mentor coordinator with the Second Chance Mentoring Program, which offers assistance to nonviolent, non-sexual offenders who are integrating back into the community. 

“That aspect of it has already given me experience working with people in and out of prison, even with substance abuse issues. I’ve had a lot of experience with that already at a young age.” 

Her work with KISRA certainly peaked her interest in a law enforcement job. She thought, “Maybe I could help them beforehand, before they get into the prison system.”

A co-worker encouraged her to apply at the Beckley Police Department when they were accepting applications in the fall. She has no family or friends with law enforcement backgrounds, but she said her application was met with enthusiasm from her loved ones. 

With their support, she tackled the physical and written exams, and passed both with flying colors. She got a call back a couple months ago, and she’s now training for her enrollment in the State Police Academy in August.

“I’m trying to get in the best physical shape I can possibly be in,” she said as she shared her routine, which includes running, strength training and playing basketball. “It’s going to be really hard, but I’m ready for it.”

She’s asking for the community’s support after her completion at the Academy, because she says she’s in it for the long haul.

“I plan on being here for the rest of my life. I plan on making it a career, not just a resting place.” 

We honor you, Charlene Diggs.

(#Repost @The Register Herald. Photo Credit @CNHI News)