SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - Wayne Diana knew from a young age that he wanted to become a police officer and was fortunate enough to do so for the town he has called home his whole life. He will officially retire from the South Plainfield Police Department on April 1 after more than 33 years of service.
Diana’s ancestors were some of the original founders of South Plainfield. His father’s relatives, the Randolph’s, are descendants of the Fitz-Randolph family that settled in the Randolphville section of Piscataway in the late 1800s. “My family has deep, deep roots in this town,” said Diana, noting there is also a long-standing tradition of volunteer firefighting. “It was a tradition in my family to volunteer for the fire department. My great grandfather was a member, both my grandfathers and my father and brother.”
Growing up, Diana spent quite a bit of time at the firehouse and, back in the day, even had the opportunity to tag along on calls but never joined the fire department himself. “From the time I was a little boy I knew I wanted to join the Marine Corps after graduation and then become a police officer,” he said, adding that he was greatly influenced growing up by his neighbor who had been a Marine. “I would see him in his dress blues and I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”
Diana enlisted in the Marine Corps while still in high school and two weeks after graduation left for basic training at Parris Island, SC. He spent more than two of his three years in Japan. Within a year of discharge, Diana applied to the Somerville, Piscataway, Plainfield, North Plainfield and South Plainfield police departments and, in September 1981, secured a job with his hometown force. He attended the Middlesex County Police Academy, graduating in December 1981. The next month, he was assigned to South Plainfield’s Uniformed Patrol Division.
“I tested for those other towns and would have taken a job elsewhere and then worked my way over here,” Diana said. “My heart was always in South Plainfield and I knew this was home for me.”
As a member of the South Plainfield Police Department, Diana served as a patrol officer for eight years, two of which were spent working with a K-9 partner. In May 1989, he was selected for temporary assignment with the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office Narcotics Task Force and that October accepted a permanent investigator’s position. In January 1990, he attended the Division of Criminal Justice Advanced Course for Investigators and, upon completion, began duties as an undercover narcotics investigator.
Later that year, Diana left the prosecutor’s office and was rehired by South Plainfield where he resumed his patrol duties. In October 2005, Diana was promoted to sergeant and, last January, was promoted to lieutenant. He served as watch commander in the patrol division until last November when back issues caused him to take a leave a few months prior than his scheduled retirement.
During his tenure with the South Plainfield Police Department, Diana has been awarded numerous honors and accolades, including but not limited to, the Police Department Medal of honor, the Middlesex County ‘200 Club’ Valor Award,’ two Exceptional Duty Medals, two Honorable Service Medals, two Honor Guard Medals, the Police K-9 Service Medal, the Military Service Medal, a Special Operations Squad Medal, a Field Training Officer Medal and an Emergency Medical Technician Medal. Additionally, in 2003, he received the James Caffrey Memorial Award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars naming him VFW New Jersey Police Officer of the Year.
“I always felt one of the most important parts of police work was the service part,” said Diana, noting that he always encouraged his officers to do something good and positive every tour. According to Diana, small things such as changing a flat tire for a disabled motorist or stopping to give someone directions or showing them the way can make all the difference.
“You can make a lot of arrests and write a lot of tickets and in most cases, all the calls you go on – whether for a car accident, a burglary or a domestic issue – are going to be negative experiences for people and, as a result, cops get viewed in a negative light,” he said. “I’ve always told them to imagine it is their wife, mother or kid sister. Sometimes putting a different face in that car makes it easier to do the right thing.”
Over the course of his more than 33 years with the South Plainfield Police Department, Diana said he has moments that stand out as ‘best,’ ‘worst,’ ‘saddest’ and ‘most memorable.’ “I’ve seen just about anything and everything,” he said, noting that the murder of a South Plainfield firefighter in his Merchants Avenue home in 2012 and serving as a first responder immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are among the worst moments of his career.
On the evening of 9/11, Diana and a team of about 60 officers from Middlesex County, including two others from South Plainfield, took a bus to Staten Island, a ferry over to Manhattan and then walked to Ground Zero to assist in search and rescue efforts. They worked through the night, leaving when the sun came up. “It was by far the most horrifying thing I have ever seen,” said Diana.
His ‘best’ list includes much happier moments, including a November 1983 call in which he helped deliver a baby boy in a house and, most recently, being sworn in as lieutenant by his oldest child, Councilman Christopher ‘CJ’ Diana. “This really does top my list. It was the first time it has ever happened where a son, as councilman, swore in their dad’ it usually happens the other way around. It was a unique thing and a proud moment,” said Diana.
Although he was eligible to retire 8.5 years ago, Diana said the plan he and his wife Janice had was continue working until all three of his kids – Christopher, Stacey and Lauren – finished college.
“When you have kids in college you have to work but this was always the game plan. We were committed to working until after they all finished college because we were determined to provide them with more than what our own parents could do for us,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean he plans to sit around and do nothing. In fact, Diana has plans to put the two-year degree that took him 25 years to earn to good use. Despite earning a year’s worth of credits while in the Marines and being eligible to continue his education free for 10 years after discharge, Diana didn’t complete his degree until March 2005. At this time, he received an associate degree in public and social services with a concentration in criminal justice from Thomas Edison State College and immediately applied to the state to become a certified substitute teacher. He can teach all subjects in K-12 at any school district in Middlesex County but hopes to return to subbing at South Plainfield in the near future.
Additionally, the Diana’s, who will celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary this May, plan to spend time at their Jersey Shore summer home, sailing the Barnegat Bay in their 25’ sailboat ‘Second Wind.’ However, for the lifelong resident, “South Plainfield will always be home.”