First female deputy hired in Armstrong
Diane Graham made history on Feb. 10 when she started her job at the Armstrong County Courthouse.
That was the day Graham, 39, became the first woman to be hired as an Armstrong County sheriff's deputy.
The married mother of three sons is at ease and comfortable at her new post and seems to become nervous and hesitant only while talking about herself.
With her long, wavy brown hair and shy smile, it may be hard for some to believe she has spent the past 19 years working as a corrections officer at the Armstrong County Jail.
But Sheriff Bill Rupert said people shouldn't be fooled by Graham's seemingly shy demeanor.
“She knows how to handle herself,” he said.
Graham said she hadn't originally planned to get into law enforcement.
“I wanted to do something outdoors, something to do with forestry,” she said.
Graham likes camping and riding a four-wheeler. She grew up in North Buffalo Township, attended Kittanning High School and graduated in 1992 from Lenape Technical School in Manor, where she studied agricultural science.
But once out of school, she applied for the position of corrections officer at the Armstrong County Jail for one simple and practical reason: She needed a job.
“I didn't regret my choice, but I missed the outdoors when I was trapped behind walls and bars,” she said.
Now she is enjoying the camaraderie of her fellow deputies while performing duties that often take her outside beyond the confines of the courthouse. But, she said, she misses the friendships she had with the jail staff.
Jail Warden David Hogue said Graham works well with people and has been a good, dependable officer.
“She respects inmates and they respect her in return,” he said. “It's bittersweet that we're losing her, but it's good for the county in the long run.”
Graham is an asset to the Sheriff's Department – not just because of her experience in corrections – but because the jail had to provide a female officer about twice a month to accompany women inmates being taken to and from the jail, Hogue said.
“I stole her from the jail,” Rupert said, adding that Graham is able to provide supervision for females during restroom stops while transporting inmates and can assist the county's drug task force team if a woman needs to be searched.
It was an easy transition for Graham, Rupert said, because she remains a county employee so everything, including her pension, just transferred over from her years at the jail.
“The time was right for her and the time was right for the Sheriff's Department,” Rupert said. “We needed a female deputy because the number of women involved in crimes – especially drug-related crimes – has been on the increase.”
Hogue agreed, saying that when he started at the jail in 1984, there were times when the jail had no female inmates at all. A recent jail count showed that of the total 144 inmate population, 24 were women.
Graham joins the ranks of six other full-time deputies whose duties include transporting inmates, providing security for the courthouse and serving court papers.
Deputies also assist the coroner at fatal crashes and suspicious deaths and provide assistance to police at crime scenes, Rupert said.
Graham said her family is proud of her accomplishments and of her new position.
“I didn't get into the field I thought I'd get into,” Graham said. “But I'm happy with my decision and I like helping the community.”
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.