Law enforcement veteran Theos Duhon will step down as Sheriff of Cameron Parish at the end of June. (Karen Wink / American Press)
Law enforcement veteran Theos Duhon. (Karen Wink / American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, June 18, 2012 10:52 AM
Cameron Parish Sheriff Theos Duhon’s nearly 40-year career in law enforcement will close later this month with the end of his second term.
Duhon talked with the American Press about his career and experience as head of law enforcement in Cameron Parish.
American Press: How long have you been in law enforcement?
Theos Duhon: Thirty-nine point eight-something years. My little thing that comes from the Sheriff’s Association Retirement System, it was thirty-nine point eight something. I did nine years, 10 months in Calcasieu (Parish) and me and a couple of other deputies opened a little private investigation service for a while in Lake Charles. And then in ’79, Sheriff Sono Savoie called me and said, ‘‘Look, I’m fixing to be the sheriff in Cameron Parish and I’d like for you to come talk to me. I’d like for you to come talk to me to see if you’re interested in going to work for me.’’
Being the connection from Cameron Parish — my grandmothers’s side of the family were all from Hackberry originally years ago and we still have family property over there — I’ve always loved Cameron. I hunt and fish down here. I thought that might be a good opportunity to get back into law enforcement and finish up and make a career of it. Which I did.
What got you started in low enforcement in the first place?
Well, I was attending McNeese. I started McNeese in SSRq64 and stayed there for three years. After the third year, they got us summer jobs, they would help football players get jobs. I put in for the Sheriff’s Office in Lake Charles. I really enjoyed it and enjoyed working patrol and all that sort of stuff. I said, ‘‘You know, you don’t need a degree for this.’’ So I quit 27 hours short of my degree and went to work working patrol on the 4-to-12 shift in Lake Charles.
You also worked in narcotics?
After two years in patrol, at the time Sheriff (Henry ‘‘Ham’’) Reid there was no designated department like burglary and theft or narcotics and this and that. That’s when he started breaking up the department as far as putting someone or a couple of people in burglary and theft and three or four people in homicide and three or four people in narcotics. And I went into the narcotics end of it.
How is Cameron Parish different from Calcasieu as far as law enforcement?
Well, first of all you don’t have the amount of people. Down here you’ve got more land and more coverage. You’ve got the Gulf (of Mexico) to deal with. We’ve got jurisdiction within three miles of the gulf — at other times, further out depending on the weather and some of the equipment we use out there.
Probably 60 or 70 percent of this parish is water. So it makes a big difference. Everything is on the ridges. It’s completely different. The people down here are great people. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody fights, but then the next day they are all together if someone comes in and wants to fight with them. It’s been an interesting go-round.
The mere mass and size of this parish has to present challenges in itself.
Oh, yes. Some parts of parish we have to go through two other parishes to get to. And that presents a little problem. There are other parishes in the same boat. Talking to other sheriffs, St. Martin’s Parish has the same problems as far as getting to certain areas.
At one time it was a big radio and communications problem. Years ago, on a good day you might be able to hear across the parish and other days you couldn’t. But with today’s technology it’s so much better. You’ve got communications at the drop of a hat. You can be talking to your people and can go over 90 percent of the state now and you’ve got coverage. That’s been a big change and I’ve seen that come about.
But logistically, we’ve got a ferry and that presents a problem.
Particularly when it’s not working.
Right. And the pontoon bridges the same thing. If they are not working, the only way we can get to our people is to either go around. And after the storm, both bridges they wanted to test them and repair things, so we had to go by boat. It presented some problems but we worked around them.
But because of the ferry, you have to maintain a lot of assets on the west side of the river?
Yeah. We have two sub-stations on the west side of the river, one in Johnson Bayou, the other in Hackberry that the men can work. There are some of the guys who live in the Sweetlake area and the commute over there. It’s shorter to cut through and go Interstate (10) than to come all the way down and cut across. So we let them do that. But it does present a problem. You’ve got to have enough boats of all kind of varieties. Boats to go in the gulf, boats to go in the marsh, boats to transport people when the ferries do break down. We just have a little ferry come in and take the place of the big ferry that was getting repaired and that little ferry, I think they brought here just to repair it because it broke down nearly every day.
It’s very serious. We have a computer sight, the Sheriff Department does, and a thing hooked up to it where we send out a message that says this is broke or the highway is blocked for this reason, whatever, for people who may have go to around. Boy, if we don’t call certain people that need to come across here to work and they are coming from Hackberry and the ferry is down and they’ve got to get here, they’d rather us call. So when we beep we wake every body us that doesn’t need to know, so that’s been a problem but we got to do it. Our problems are a little different from other places but when I go to the Sheriff Association’s meetings I realize there are some parishes that are very similar to us and have some of the same problems.
What are the major crimes that are committed here?
Well, fortunately, we don’t have a lot of homicides. Probably, theft is a big problem. Of course, we have our share of drugs. We don’t have a lot of places where people congregate and deal in them and stuff because of the fact that we don’t have a lot of bars or lot of places where they can congregate. So they have to do it through homes which presents a challenge trying to work that type of stuff. If you have an agent you can send into a bar or some kind of place where people can gather and the public can go in it, it makes it a lot easier. It’s hard to knock on a door and say, ‘‘Hey, I’m here to have fun.’’
So that presents a problem. You have to attack it a lot of different ways. We make a lot of possession-type busts and I was reading in the paper (recently) out of about eight people arrested, six or seven were drug violations after traffic stops.
We have our problems. Years ago we had a lot more smuggling operations that we worked and stuff, but we don’t have as many, but we still gets tips about this and that and check it out.
It’s definitely unique. And you can’t say he’s a bad boy because one unique thing about down here, if you’re not best friends with somebody, you’re kin to them.
Other than drugs, is the other issue mainly property crimes?
Exactly. Years ago when I came down here in the ’80s there were two or three bars down here in Cameron and you would have your bar fights. We don’t have as much as that anymore. And with our population down, we probably have three to four thousand people that didn’t come back after the storm, they’re either up in Lake Charles or Beauregard Parish or Vermilion (Parish). So we’re down in population from about ten thousand to four-thousand something, almost five (thousand).
In one sense, that would help in the terms of the number of crimes committed — reduced population and reduced crime — but on the flip side it reduces the number of eyes that you have in terms of the public reporting crime.
It’s a trade-off. With today’s technology and stuff, it helps even more. You have a lot less people and people coming and seeing things, but we have so many more people that have a cell phone now. We’ll get a call: ‘‘This car is driving all over the road. You need to stop it.’’ Or this or that. Or, ‘‘Something is going on over there by the bridge and you need to check into it.’’ It could be somebody during their crab traps, but we’re known because the last two or three homicides that we did work down here were all out of Texas. People had brought bodies over here thinking the alligators were going to take them and nobody was going to find them in the swamp.
We have our own little unique deals. We don’t get as many calls, but we do get some because of the technology and stuff, but the population has dropped us down.
How did hurricanes Rita and Ike affect your department?
That first go-round was terrible. Out of 63 employees, we have 42 or 43 that lost everything, didn’t even have a pair of underwear to put on the next day. So worrying about them and worrying about what was going to happen to them. It was really unique. Everyone held together. They got their little bit help and others helping others and they all survived and hung in there and the majority are still working today.
That says something for Cameron Parish and the community that’s here.
It sure does.
And then Ike comes along and that was like a second punch.
Yeah, you get back on your feet and get going and things start to shape up a little bit and here comes Ike. It is very depressing and very tough to work it and handle it. Besides seeing your men, your women in the department have their struggles with the rebuilding and fighting to get this and fighting to get that, and then the people in the community have their problems are fighting and having their struggles. It was tough.
You’ve got nearly 40 years in law enforcement. How have you seen law enforcement in general change? Is it mainly technology?
That’s a big thing in it. The biggest change I’ve seen, way back when, you could kind of help some people out without breaking the law and do some things. Nowadays, you wouldn’t even think about doing some of the things that you did by just going and helping somebody, trying to straighten out a mess by just going to talk to somebody. You can still do some of that but there’s a lot of things you can’t or you’re going to wind up in the middle of a lawsuit, civilly. Back then, you could go and do things: ‘‘Raise your hands, you’re not divorced no more, y’all quit fighting.
Were you more of a peacemaker?
Exactly. Nowadays you have to be so extremely careful. You’ve got to walk a chalk line, you’ve got to watch what you do, watch what you say. And it’s a lot different ballgame, a lot different.
Not a one. I have enjoyed every minute of it. I really enjoyed. It’s been a good ride and I’m glad I stuck with in and did it. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
Any advice for your successor?
No. Just be true in what you say and do what you say. Listen to both sides of the story. Don’t make a decision before you hear both sides. So many people, besides law enforcement people, they listen to one side of the story all day. Listen to both sides of the story before you make your decision.
Listen and pick up every bit they say. Don’t get too boisterous and start your opinions too soon. Listen to the whole thing, then you’ve got an idea of what you need to do.