Trading the Power Suit for a Uniform

By Mike Endres

“No matter what career you go into, a business degree will help you get to the top leadership positions of any industry.” Susana Sanchez’ father gave her this advice when she was applying for college. “Saying that I’m glad I listened to him is an understatement.”

Earning a Spot in a Top Business School

“Coming from a small town on the border of San Antonio, I had heard a great deal about the Red McCombs School of Business. It was THE business school any high school student aspired to attend short of going to the Ivy League. The chances of getting in were slim. 75% of the students that McCombs accepted that year graduated in the top 3% of their class. I did not make that cut, but I was close and willing to do what it took to get in.”

Perseverance paid off; Susana was accepted to her dream school. “I had lived in three different countries during my life and learned to appreciate the importance of diversity in negotiation and innovation. During my sophomore year, I decided to take on a bigger challenge – integrating a business degree with International Relations. Business and geopolitics… a powerful tool for an ambitious young Latina with dreams of tackling the global organized crime industry. So where does a bright-eyed, idealistic ‘Mcbombsian’ go to get a glimpse of this?” For Susana, it was the federal government’s own branch of law enforcement, the U.S. Department of Justice, where she would fulfill her internship requirement for graduation.

Officer Sanchez graduating from UT. Photo courtesy of Ben Briones Photography

Officer Sanchez graduating from UT. Photo courtesy of Ben Briones Photography

She described her days at the DOJ as being slow in the beginning. “Small tasks fill up your days so you can, every so often, catch a glimpse of the real deal. However, I was blessed with a great mentor who showed me what I could do. I wasn’t a copy girl just checking a box of college credit; I was helping to get federal indictments.” One day, while waiting to get a sandwich at the local deli, her mentor squinted at the menu behind the counter. He was thoughtful. “You should be a cop.” Was he joking? The thought had never crossed her mind. Susana was set to the trajectory a normal business student expects: graduate, land a job at a hot-shot company, retire, and travel. To be a police officer was a serious deviation from the plan, but her mentor insisted that she had the attitude for it. “If you want to see the world, then see it for what it is. Be a cop.”

In the conversation that followed, Susana said she understood that while a normal business career path is great, it wasn’t the only one for her. “Yes, impressive things could be accomplished, but why not take the challenge to protect the streets every citizen walks? Everyone wants to walk freely without worrying about violence and crime, much less a web of global criminal activity. What better way to start than by opening my eyes to what happens everyday, out there, behind closed doors, or after the world gets dark?”

“After a little digging, I decided that the Austin Police Department was the place whose ranks I wanted to join. This agency protects a vibrant city and helps create a safe place in which its diverse residents may live, innovate and thrive. Of course, it helped that the pay and benefits were not bad. APD acknowledges my scholastic efforts via salary, benefits and promotion opportunities. The best part is that I could remain close to my family.”

Before graduation, Susana was called into the office of Undergraduate Affairs at the McCombs School for a pre-graduation meeting. She informed the counselor eyeing the course schedule that she wanted to be a police officer. The counselor blinked a couple of times, looked down at her school transcripts, then back at Susana. “A police officer?”

“It was an awkward moment,” Susana admits about the exchange with a laugh. “My parents, too, were trying to wrap their heads around the decision and even though they came to be fully accepting of it, it wasn’t easy. Any person would want to make their parents proud, but some of us have unconventional ways of doing that. Years later, my dad did a police ride along. He told me, ‘If it wasn’t for you guys and how hard you work, any city would fall apart.’ He was proud.”

On Patrol

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After graduating from the Austin Police Academy, Susana chose an assignment in ‘Baker sector’, an area that encompasses the central west portion of the city. “I chose Baker because I saw the opportunity to give back to my school. From here I can help to protect college students who live near the university and can collaborate with UTPD to make their experience better. In the few precious moments I’m not running around answering calls for service, I speak with students about their degrees, how they’re faring with finals, and what safety concerns they have.”

Even during traffic stops Officer Sanchez tries to learn about the newest batch of Longhorns and impart some knowledge upon them: travel in groups, be wary of your surroundings, keep your face out of your phone while driving, etc. “For many, it’s comforting to know someone with a very similar background is out here protecting them and enforcing the law.”

Aside from the community policing, there are the rougher parts of being a police officer that she’s ready to tackle when needed. When asked what her proudest moment has been on the job, Officer Sanchez is quick to answer. Shortly after being released from the field training program, she responded to a call about a family disturbance where a husband was chasing his wife around a residence with a knife.

“I was alone and knew the man had an arsenal of weapons in his house. It was dark and I saw him from a distance, sitting and staring at a large kitchen knife on the ground. I descended the stairs to face him. He looked at the knife for a moment and back at me, gauging his odds of making a run for it.” Out of the corner of her eye, Susana saw a woman huddled behind her – the man’s wife. With her own weapon drawn and a series of commands, a newly-arrived corporal and her were able to arrest the man. Officers later found a loaded pistol on the man’s bed. Even though Susana admits to having worked much more complicated calls, this one is close to her heart for what the victim told her afterwards. “She clutched my hand saying ‘You have no idea how relieved I felt to hear you come down those stairs.’ It is in these moments when an officer, exhausted from hard work at the end of a shift realizes why she does this job. No matter the college degree, no matter what prestigious experiences you’ve had, few things top saving a life.”

Case after case, Susana discovered her passion for helping battered women and abused children. She wants to work against human trafficking and play a role in the fight against modern slavery. “I believe it is imperative that all people have the chance to be free and grow into strong individuals, capable of helping themselves and others. This is especially true for victims of abuse. Hopefully any prospective officer that reads this can gather courage from my experience. If service and dedication form a part of your calling, don’t hesitate to apply your knowledge from other fields to this honorable career. As I learned in McComb’s, diversity makes a more successful and better-equipped team. Learn, work, and come see the real world. As UT’s motto goes, ‘What starts here changes the world.’”