In 1969, Richard Nixon was president, sending a letter cost only 6 cents, and Sgt. Major Gregory Walters started his career as a police officer in Prince George’s County.
There have been seven presidents since then, and the cost of a stamp crept up to 49 cents. Through it all, Walters stayed on the force.
The county recently honored Walters for his 45 years of work — a tenure that makes him the longest-serving officer in the history of the police department.
“I don’t know how this happened,” Walters — now a grandfather of six — said from police headquarters the day he received an award for his service. “When I was a rookie, I thought if I could make 20 years, it would be great. Twenty years turned to 25, which turned to 35.”
Which turned to 45.
Walters spent his first 28 years on the force as a patrol officer, eventually becoming the department’s fleet manager. He now works as a project manager for the information technology department. And even though he isn’t on the streets patrolling anymore, he still takes satisfaction in his IT work.
“I am helping officers get their jobs done,” Walters said.
Walters is the son of a Maryland State Police trooper. After seeing his father working in law enforcement, Walters decided it would be a “solid job” and wanted to do the same.
Walters was born in D.C. but grew up in Laurel. After graduating high school, he served in Vietnam through the U.S. Marine Corps before coming back and joining the force in 1969.
He said much of his work has been helping others and serving the community.
“We may fear what we’re doing, but we run toward it anyway,” Walters said. “You just do it and get it done.”
During his time on the force, Walters said he’s seen the evolution of law enforcement. Without cellphones, Walters had to find pay phones on the street if he needed to call into the station. And when he first started, police cars had a simple, red bubble light on the roof, not the fancy spotlights, computers and sirens that come with today’s cruisers.
But police work was also simpler, Walters said. Designer drugs didn’t exist, and people seemed to have more respect for the police than they do today.
“Before, people wouldn’t want to encounter a police officer,” Walters said. “Now they don’t care. They’re more brazen. It’s disheartening.”
After receiving recognition for his service, Walters walked back to his office and joked, “I got an award for being old.”
But Prince George’s County police Chief Mark Magaw said Walters is a rare breed. There are fewer than 10 officers in the department who have served Prince George’s for about 35 to 40 years. Officers are eligible for retirement after 20 years of service.
“Forty-five years is a tremendous accomplishment doing anything, let alone police work,” Magaw said. “This is who he is. He’s invested his entire life here.”
It’s an investment Walters plans to continue, with no plans to retire anytime soon.
“As long as I feel good and the job is satisfying,” Walters said, “I’m going to stay.”