CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Debra Walters is still getting used to the title of captain.
"It feels pretty good," she said. "I probably thought I would make lieutenant but not captain."
Walters, who has been in law enforcement for more than 36 years, recently became the first woman captain in the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department.
The Parkersburg native majored in criminal justice at West Virginia State, and after graduation joined the Dunbar Police Department, where she served for two and a half years. From there, she went to the sheriff's department and worked her way up through the ranks to corporal, sergeant and lieutenant.
On Aug. 27, she was promoted to captain.
Advancement is based on the combined scores of written test, seniority and evaluations.
Walters oversees the security team at the Kanawha County Judicial Annex with its seven circuit judges, five family court judges and 10 magistrates.
"Usually, 1,000 people come through these doors every day," she said. "We've got all kinds of hearings."
During her years in law enforcement, she has worked at the jail, handled road patrol, worked airport security and served in the warrant division.
"Unfortunately, we see a lot of the same people over and over," she said. "I see some of the same people I saw in the jail and the jail has been closed at least 20 years. I see people I knew as kids."
While some seem to get in trouble repeatedly, there are others who stop by to tell her they have stayed out of trouble and they appreciate the advice she gave them long ago.
She has tried to follow the golden rule throughout the decades.
"I try to treat people like I'd want to be treated," she said. "Sometimes people just want somebody to listen to them. We do try to listen and see if we can help."
When she first joined the sheriff's department, there were only a handful of female officers. While that number has continued to grow, there are still more men.
As a woman officer, she has had few problems.
"One challenge would be that probably a woman is not as strong as a man," she said. "They may want to test you."
The most prevalent issue has been that someone will ask her a question and then ask a male officer the same question. After the person gets the same answer, she asks, "What? You didn't believe me?"