Deaf sheriff's deputy inspires through determination, character

Photo provided by staff
Friday, September 13, 2013 - 7:00am

Susie Cambre had a lot of people tell her she could not work in law enforcement. But fortunately for her, and southeast Louisiana, she could not hear them.

Cambre, more commonly known as Deputy Susie, is an investigator and director of elderly services for the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office. She began her career more than 30 years ago with the New Orleans Police Department, and she also worked for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's office.

Cambre, who was born deaf, has won dozens of awards, both national and international, for her work as an advocate for the hearing-impaired, as well as for educational programs aimed toward children.

Cambre made a sudden career change from art therapy to law enforcement in the 1970's.

"I first got into law enforcement because somebody broke into my house," she said. "Because I didn't have any way to call for help."

When she realized that she could not speak with an emergency dispatcher, she decided to change the system from the inside for the betterment of all deaf people.

"So I learned that we didn't have the same rights, we didn't have the ability to call for help," she stated. "I learned that we had to teach those professionals, we have to teach people what we want."

Cambre fought for a few years to become a police officer so she could bring equality to people who cannot hear. Her mailman at the time was one of the first black mailmen, and his struggle inspired her. He also taught her that an onslaught of rejection was the best time to be deaf.

When she finally got the job, she decided that equality meant making the community better for everyone, not just the deaf.

"I never wanted to do just people with handicaps," she recalled. "It had to be everybody. I had to do it on the same terms as the other law enforcement officers."

Cambre overcame prejudice and physical challenges, and rode the beat as any police officer would. She used technology and her own intelligence to compensate for her lack of hearing. But the fact that she still wears a
badge decades later is testament to her determination and character.

"It's been the best and the worst," she said of her career in law enforcement. "But I am so blessed. So, so blessed
to have worked with some of the most fantastic people in the world, who genuinely want to meet the needs of everybody."

She is effusive in her praise for her colleagues, introducing visitors to each one, as well as Sheriff Daniel Edwards.

"I love my boss, the sheriff, because it's really something to have somebody with an open mind," Cambre said. "I mean, how many people don't have that? You know, how many people with differences are limited to the label."

Cambre works on some mental health cases, but she spends much of her time working with kids and seniors, teaching them how to protect themselves and how to work with the police.

"You'd think it's odd that a deaf woman teaches communication," she noted. "But I think that's a lot of what I do. I have tried to specialize, and I've considered it a real challenge and a finesse to learn to communicate [on] many different levels."

Cambre studied communication in school, and has worked in TV, radio, and print for the better part of 30 years.

On this day, she gives presentations to two classes at Hammond Magnet High School. One of her messages to the students that the only way to fail in life is to stop fighting for your dreams.

"If you think you can do it, and you're willing to fight for it and find ways, and do it over and over and over until you master it, then you will," she told one group of students. "It took me years to accomplish law enforcement, because everybody said I couldn't do it."

They know she means it, because she has lived it, and her enthusiasm, for her job and for life, is unmistakable.

"I think I'm honored to do it. I'm very, very honored to be in this position, where I can still continue to try to make a difference," she said.

"You don't want to miss the opportunity to be there for somebody's who's in trouble."

Cambre recently signed a contract with Disney to tell her life's story, in the form of a book and a movie. While many people would be eager to see themselves on screen, Cambre said her project can wait.

"I'm not ready," she claimed. "I mean, I'm afraid if I do that book, and if I do that movie, the rest of my life will be an anti-climax, and we've got too much left to do!"

She said she never would have imagined her life turning out the way it has. She joked that she cannot hear God's voice, so he thumps her in different directions.

"When I was little, I wanted to be three things," she mentioned. "I wanted to be a ballet dancer, because I loved the beauty of it. I wanted to be a marine, because all my boy cousins were marines. And I wanted to be St. Joan of Arc; I wanted to be a woman who made a difference, you know what I mean? So, kinda, I did all of them, huh?"

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