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Criminal justice alum, now San Jose assistant police chief, inspires graduating class


Diane Urban says determination, patience and courage has made her who she is. (Photo: Diane Daniel)

  • June 1, 2011

It’s easy to look at someone who is the highest ranking woman to have ever served with the San Jose Police Department, once the first woman to be a member of the department’s SWAT team, and think, "piece of cake."

But no one would think "piece of cake" of the hard work that got Diane Urban, a Cal State East Bay criminal justice administration graduate, and now acting assistant chief of the 10th largest police department in the U.S., to where she is today.

Urban came to the Cal State East Bay's Hayward Campus May 27 to address this year's 170 criminal justice administration graduates. She was invited by Kathleen Rountree, interim dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences, as the third of four "Dean's Invited Guests" for the year.

The program also included a panel discussion by four other alumni: a family member standing in for Bilal Abdullah, ‘08, of the Sussex Law School, United Kingdom; Matthew Anderson, ‘05, of STAYWell Housing Program; Amanda Geipe '08, CSUEB Masters of Social Work, a child protective services intern; and Moniay Wade, '04, of the San Mateo Probation Department.

Urban told the soon-to-be-graduates and their guests that it has been failures – not successes – that have made her who she is.

“The ultimate measure of who I am has been defined by where I stand in times of controversy. Three words define me: determination, patience, and courage,” she said.

In each area, there has been at least one defining moment, and many times it necessitated proving herself to be better than the male competition.

A seven-time NCAA All-American in the discus while at CSUEB (then Cal State Hayward) who barely missed making it to the Olympics in 1984, Urban had no trouble conquering the mandatory physical agility test when she first joined the SJPD SWAT team. But when the rules changed and she was required to redo the test – including scaling a seven-foot wall – in all her gear, her true grit came out.

Over an intense, two-day period she and a Navy Seal pal dissected every challenge and found ways she could succeed. Call it will power or resolve, or both, Urban retained her spot on the SWAT team.

Not a natural with patience, here, too, she found a way to make it her friend.

Frustrated at missing out on a promotion, she turned her attention to earning her master’s degree through night courses at Boston University. Sure enough, days before receiving her degree, she got the coveted promotion to deputy chief and four months later, to assistant chief.

Then comes courage, or doing what’s right in the face of fear.

Urban told of the moment when a single arrest within a sea of 40,000 protesters assembled in front of San Jose’s glass and steel city hall could have turned ugly. It was up to her to make the right decision – but not the popular decision among her officers – that changed public sentiment and enabled the crowd to disperse in peace.

Urban told the students that the current economic climate has not only increased the challenges they will face in law enforcement, but also increased the opportunities.

“You can do anything that is moral, just and right,” Urban said.

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