A positive attitude, contagious smile and an eagerness to serve her community helped Diannia Jackson rise through the ranks of the Tyler Police Department to the position she is retiring from today.
But a soft spoken Assistant Police Chief Jackson said her long distinguished career in law enforcement almost didn’t happen because she originally tried to get on as a fire dispatcher.
“The fire department didn’t hire me because they said I spoke too soft. I guess it’s good they didn’t,” the 54-year-old said, laughing.
Chief Jackson began her career with the police department as a dispatcher on May 1, 1984, but taking calls from officers on the street gave her the bug to pursue a career in law enforcement.
“There were a number of female officers who pushed me along. I’d listen to their calls on the street, and they would come in and tell their stories and I thought it was so exciting,” she said.
As she made the switch from dispatcher to a street cop she said the experience made her “grow up.”
Through her career, Chief Jackson has served in a variety of roles, including patrol, lead juvenile crimes detective, public information officer, patrol commander for three shifts, and she was promoted to assistant chief in 2009.
She was the first African-American lieutenant in the police department and served as the first African-American assistant chief.
With all of the calls she has been on, the one case that haunts her is the case originally assigned to her, the Megan Gardner case. Megan Gardner, 3, was abducted from an apartment complex on Paluxy Drive in 1991. She has never been found.
Chief Jackson said she stayed involved in the case throughout the years looking through the files with detectives working the case.
“That case still haunts me. It’s still an open case, and hopefully one day we will solve it. That’s the biggest thing that stands out to me. With what happened in Cleveland (Ohio), I’d be glad to take the hit that we just overlooked something if we found that she’s still alive somewhere,” she said.
Chief Jackson actively worked on the Oral Interview Hiring Board and the Recruitment Team. She has worked for the past five years on the City of Tyler’s United Way campaign and received the Chairman’s Award from United Way of Tyler/Smith County in 2010.
Her awards and accommodations include the Safe Driving Award, Non-Sworn Employee of the Month, Supervisor of the Month, Supervisor of the Year for 1996 and 2007, two Certificates of Merit, and a Police Commendation. She received a community service award from the Rose City Chapter of the Top Ladies of Distinction, the Rosa Parks Award from the Tyler Ministerial Alliance, and Miracle Center Award from New Days Ministries Inc. for Woman of Distinction. She also has been recognized by the Zeta Kappa Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and by Women in Tyler as a Woman of Courage.
Chief Gary Swindle said he and the department would miss his friend, but he was glad she would be able to do spend time with her family and have time to pursue new paths.
“She’s had an outstanding career here, and she will be missed, but we’re excited for this new direction in her life,” he said.
When asked if he had any funny stories about his assistant chief, Swindle talked about her changing hair styles and color.
“Sometimes we really wouldn’t know what color her hair was going to be. We joked with her about it, and she took it real well. It was kind of what she was known for around here,” he said.
Chief Jackson said her plans include driving her Kubota tractor in her garden as she tends to her farm, which she said will include chickens.
She laughed when saying she was going from being in charge of 100 patrol officers to tending to the chickens.
“Yeah, I guess that’s a pretty big switch, but I am going to love it. Sure I’ll think about the job when something big happens, but it’s time for me to retire and spend time with my family,” she said.
A retirement ceremony in Chief Jackson’s honor will take place at 2 p.m. today at the Tyler Police Department.