Walter Vernon Lawson was the first African American police officer in the Seattle Police Department to be promoted to sergeant (July 1964). He went on to become Seattle's first Black police lieutenant (July 1967), and within two years, the city's first Black police captain (July 1969).
From Boeing to SPD
Prior to joining his parents, who had moved to Seattle from Shreveport, Louisiana in 1940, Lawson attended Southern University and served two-and-one-half years with the U.S. Navy. In 1950, after studying engineering at Seattle University for a year, and working for a few months at the Boeing Company, he joined the Seattle Police Department.
In 1949, Lawson married Jacqueline Alexander, daughter of Irene (Harvey) and Ernest Alexander. Their three children became the fourth generation of the pioneer family of Charles and Eva Harvey, who migrated to Seattle in 1888.
During his tenure with the Seattle Police Department, Lawson served as Director of Personnel, Commander of the City Jail, and Commander of Traffic Special Enforcement. He also organized the Community Service Officer program. After 21 years of service, he retired from the department in 1971 to accept a position with the Justice Department's Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) at the regional office in Seattle. With that organization, he held the subsequent and sometimes concurrent positions of Police and Manpower Specialist, Law Enforcement Specialist, Equal Employment Office Counselor, and Criminal Justice Program Manager. When the regional office closed in 1977, he was transferred to the Federal office in Washington, D.C.
Lawson's wife and youngest son joined him in Washington, D.C., while their two older (grown) children remained in Seattle. The Lawsons purchased a home in Silver Spring, Maryland, where Jacqueline found a position in the corporate office of Quality Inns International.
Lawson was assigned as the Alaska State Representative for LEAA. He was also the Director of the Equal Employment Office. Missing life on the West Coast, in 1979, he accepted a new career as Director of Administrative Services with the Alaska State Department of Public Safety in Juneau, Alaska, and moved there with his family. His primary goal was to get more African Americans into law enforcement careers. He was continuously heralding the advantages of that career, and working for equal employment for minorities. His untimely death occurred in 1982 while he was in California on an assignment to recruit minority police officers for the state of Alaska.