Danny Diggs uses what he learned at Thomas Nelson in his role as the York-Poquoson sheriff.
For someone who has spent 20 years as a county sheriff, as Danny Diggs has, you’d expect it to be something he aspired to since he was a youngster. But growing up in Poquoson, Diggs never thought about law enforcement as a career.
“I had no interest in it at all, not really,” he said recently while sitting behind his desk at the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s office.
In November, Diggs was re-elected to a sixth four-year term. He first ran for sheriff in 1995, didn’t win, but got elected in 1999, and has been in that role ever since.
So how did he wind up with a career in law enforcement?
After graduating from Poquoson High School, he headed to Virginia Tech. He said as an honor student, he did well but lasted a little more than a quarter. He said winter in Blacksburg can be rough, and he was 300 miles from home.
“That just wasn’t for me,” he said.
He returned home and landed a job at a local retail store. An uncle who worked at the Poquoson police department as a dispatcher mentioned they had part-time openings. So Diggs looked into and became a dispatcher. Once he saw what the officers did, he was sold on a career in law enforcement.
“The bug bit me and that was the start of it, when I was 19 years old,” he said.
However, that didn’t end his pursuit of a college education. He soon learned many of the police officers were taking classes at Thomas Nelson, so he decided to do the same. It was, he thinks, 1977 when he got started. But then he got married, had kids and was working full time as a deputy sheriff in York County. He took a few breaks from his educational pursuit, but finally earned an associate degree in police science from Thomas Nelson in 1994.
“I kind of plugged along,” he said.
He noted when he first started at Thomas Nelson, society placed less emphasis on education than it does today.
“Really, it wasn’t a big priority of mine (at the time),” he said. “But you could see you needed to continue your education to get ahead and prove yourself.”
Although it was more than 25 years ago, he still remembers his time at Thomas Nelson. He said a lot of the instructors were retired police officers or others who had master’s degrees, and many of his fellow students were officers from various agencies, all of which created a good learning atmosphere.
“You respected the people who were teaching you,” he said. “There was camaraderie among your classmates.”
He’s confident he was on the receiving end of a top-notch learning experience.
“I don’t know that the education is any less than doing four years somewhere else and running the bills up,” he said.
Oddly enough, he said he learned the most from the courses he least wanted to take, among them psychology and sociology.
“I was like, ‘Good God, I have to take this stuff?’ he said. “And I learned more in that sociology class than I learned in any other class because it was so foreign to me. I had never been exposed to sociology and the different concepts that go along with that.”
He still uses what he learned in that class.
“Sociology really opened my eyes up to different people, different cultures, and how to be tolerant,” he said.
He added ethnocentricity was a word, along with a concept, he wasn’t familiar with at the time, but it still plays an important role for him decades later.
“Just because somebody is different doesn’t mean your way is better,” he said. “We should respect other people’s cultural differences … which is still a battle going on today.”
After he earned his degree at Thomas Nelson, his education wasn’t over. He went to the FBI National Academy, and earned credits from the University of Virginia. About 10 years ago, he started taking classes through Bluefield College at the Virginia Beach Law Enforcement Training Academy. He said he’s about 18 credits short of his bachelor’s degree.
“Wish I had done it 10, 20 years ago,” he admitted. “You keep putting things off and you have different priorities.”
He now is 62, and has few regrets on how things turned out. And it all started when he took a part-time job as a dispatcher.