To the criminals who run into her, she's a consummate liar and manipulator, and more than a tad nasty. Just ask the dope dealer she decked with a wicked right cross.
To most of her colleagues, she is one of the most competent, colorful and creative people ever to pin on a Maryland State Police badge.
However you view Detective Sgt. Diane Kulp, what you see is what you get.
Along with two other women who broke the state police gender barrier in 1974, Sergeant Kulp is celebrating her 20th anniversary on the force. Now supervisor of the agency's Annapolis-based Narcotics Task Force, she has worked some of the most dangerous undercover assignments undertaken by state police in the last two decades.
Though she does not discuss some minor indiscretions -- such as being caught speeding by another trooper outside Cumberland, for which she lost three days leave -- she has earned the respect of nearly everyone she has worked with. "Whether posing as a biker chick infiltrating the Pagans or as a sophisticate on a luxury sailboat working cocaine smugglers, she could change her personality to fit the mission," said 1st Sgt. Gary W. Cofflin, now with the detail that protects the governor. "Put her at my back any day of the week."
"She is a good cop, but she's a know-it-all and pretty crude," said another former colleague. "She'd do well loading containers at the Dundalk Marine Terminal."
Diane Kulp says of the people she has arrested that if they behave rudely, she'll treat them that way, "but if they conduct themselves properly, I've been known to give them a lift home after they've made bail."
Twenty years ago, Sergeant Kulp was one of the first six women appointed to the agency. Three of those pioneers -- Sergeant Kulp, Sgt. Virginia Lewis and Sgt. Susan Topper -- remain on the force. They say that breaking into the all-male ranks was not easy.
Some women on the force apparently think things haven't changed much. Three lawsuits have been filed this year by female troopers charging sexual harassment and discrimination. But Sergeant Kulp doesn't see the suits as relevant to her situation.
"It doesn't affect me, because I don't have that problem," she said.
When she started, Diane Kulp was no stranger to the rough side of life, friends say. She won't discuss her childhood, but friends say she had a difficult home life in Baltimore and that her surroundings weren't exactly friendly. Some say it was the best preparation possible for the tough assignments she would face.
"I expected resentment when I started out, so it didn't bother me," the 40-year-old Eastern Shore resident said. "From day one, there were troopers who wouldn't talk to me because I was a woman. And we wouldn't get road assignments that supervisors thought we couldn't handle.
"But after a month or two, it all changed for me. I didn't join the agency to make a statement as a feminist. I wanted to be a cop. As time went by, they saw that I never phoned in sick, I was never a sissy."
And when the agency needed a trooper years later to help crack a spectacular murder-for-hire case, Sergeant Kulp got the nod.
She had been a hostage negotiator, a road trooper and an investigator, but she said her clandestine mission to a dark, smelly prison cell in Bermuda left her shaken.
The state had indicted Tina Marco-Myers, Robert L. Myers and Daniel L. Chadderton in the 1979 contract killing of Mr. Myers' first wife, Mary Ruth Myers, who was shot to death in the bedroom of their home outside Westminster.
Circumstantial evidence indicated that Robert Myers and Tina Marco had hired Chadderton, a supermarket handyman, to kill Mary Ruth Myers for $10,000. But Carroll County prosecutors were having trouble getting the defendants to cooperate.
So the state police came up with a covert operation. They found out that Tina Marco-Myers, who had been married four times, had married Robert Myers in Bermuda a month after the slaying while she was still legally married to James Marco, a Florida plumber.
In a secret agreement between Maryland and Bermuda authorities, Tina Marco-Myers was extradited to the island in April 1981 to stand trial on a bigamy charge.
She was placed in a dank prison cell with a tough, sandpaper-voiced woman who supposedly had been charged with running cocaine through the Caribbean. It was Diane Kulp, and her assignment was to get Tina Marco-Myers to talk.
"She came to jail with furs and jewelry," Sergeant Kulp said. "She thought she was going to a hotel, but it was far from it. The cell was 10 feet by 10 feet, no windows, no toilet, no sink. Two metal beds. There was a small sliding panel in the door for guards. They served the prisoners hot dogs, bread, rice and water, but that didn't bother me. They were beating prisoners for any minor rule infraction, like talking back to the guards."
As time went by with no contact from the outside, Sergeant Kulp began to worry -- particularly when she was taken to court for her alleged crime on an island that does not coddle criminals.
"I mean . . . a guy who got caught sleeping on a park bench got five years, no parole," she recalled. "The only people there who knew my undercover role were the attorney general and chief of police. When I went to court I really got worried. . . . I was a foreigner, and I was beginning to really worry if the state police had forgotten about me. . . . But the attorney general happened to be in the courtroom and straightened things out with the judge."
In the end, Diane Kulp got what she came for. Tina Marco-Myers was perfectly willing to talk.
"She talked about the homicide, her direct knowledge of it," Sergeant Kulp said. "Eventually, she trusted me so much that she and her husband wanted to hire me when I got out of prison."
Several months later, Tina Marco-Myers turned state's evidence, and her husband and Chadderton got life in prison.
There have been other frightening moments, such as the time Sergeant Kulp was in the back seat of a PCP merchant's car and a drug dealer put a gun to her head because he suspected she was a police officer. She talked her way out of that one.
During the late 1970s, she says, she was challenged by a man selling LSD on U.S. 1 near College Park.
"He said he thought I was a cop and wanted to test me," Sergeant Kulp says. "He wanted me to do something crazy to show I wasn't a cop. So I dropped my pants and mooned traffic on Route 1. That convinced him. He sold me large amounts of LSD. I busted him and got a conviction."
Detective Sgt. Gary Aschenbach, a supervisor in the training and education unit, called Sergeant Kulp "my guiding light. She taught me the more unconventional you are, the better your chances are of being persuasive, of making your case.
"Sometimes you might hear reservations from some people about working with a female, but I would choose her many times over my male counterparts," he said. "Once in Prince George's County, we were making an arrest of a dealer who made a fist and was rearing back to punch her. She hit him twice before he could do anything."
He added that Sergeant Kulp "had to fight the stigma of being a woman in a very tough world."
Sergeant Lewis, president of the 2,100-member Maryland Troopers Association and Sergeant Kulp's roommate at the police academy 20 years ago, said, "Our only aim then was to be accepted on our merits, not as women troopers but as troopers."
Today, there are 124 women on the 1,600-member force, and the novelty of female troopers has faded.
"The important thing is results, and Diane has worked every county in the state and Baltimore City," Sergeant Lewis said. "She has a handful of commendations and remains the picture of dedication, a focused professional, and that's the best thing you can say about her.
Sergeant Kulp said she relaxes with an occasional beer and enjoys fishing and crabbing and tending a thriving vegetable garden. Her Labrador retrievers, Cocoa and Trooper, are fine companions, she said.
She has had several serious relationships over the years, and two marriage proposals. "But both of them wanted me to give up my job because of the hours and travel," she said. "I refused. I date, but I'm not about to give up my career."