After serving his West Kendall church for more than a decade, Jorge Avila felt a calling — he wanted to be a cop again. So he approached the personnel office of the Miami-Dade Police Department, where he had worked for 15 years until 2002.
On a Friday he was told everything was in order. But when Monday came, there was bad news: The county mayor had ordered a hiring freeze. Two weeks became six months. Avila’s calling was being delayed. So he took an alternate path.
“I started waiting and praying and decided to apply in Miami,” he said.
Avila was hired in Miami almost immediately, and his patience more than paid off: Today, Avila, who patrols the Little Havana neighborhood, is also a department chaplain who counsels fellow officers and is called upon for prayer at police gatherings and town hall events.
“I started sensing a call back to law enforcement. God starts putting a desire in your heart. I was struggling with that desire. I was leading a successful, vibrant church,” Avila said.
It’s a tough but important calling for Avila, 47. He’s married, has a son who is a Miami police officer, a daughter in college and another who just got out.
Study after study has shown the stress involved in police work can lead to high domestic violence rates, abusive drinking, a host of cardiac issues, even higher suicide rates than the general public.
Avila will on occasion counsel fellow officers on the job, but more often than not he does the Lord’s work during nonworking hours. Seated in a small conference room at a Miami police substation on West Flagler Street, Avila tells the story of a female officer who recently approached him about a bad breakup with another officer. He said they met over coffee and he “gave her some information and inspiration that turned into a transformation.’’
“She’s doing great,’’ he said.
Avila compares policing to shoes that are difficult to fill. The job, he said, has a negative impact on your mind.
“You’re dealing with all the fallout of humanity. The injured. The sick. You’ve got the criminal element that are unruly. Over a period of time you create an emotional negative charge that you need to know how to manage,’’ he explained.
Recently, Avila said, he was approached by an officer who had been struggling with alcohol since working a horrific case in June 2014 that involved an 11-year-old girl. Police believe the child was stabbed through the throat by a man upset at his girlfriend — the child’s mother—for breaking up with him. Police said Miguel Ruiz Lobo originally tried to manipulate the scene to appear as if the girl had taken her own life. But surveillance video helped attach him to the crime, police said.
Avila said he has been approached recently by officers worried about getting into trouble for appearing to deal inappropriately with the public. Their concerns, he said, stem from the recent police confrontations that led to the deaths of unarmed black men and rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore.
Avila moved to Miami-Dade from New York when he was 7, graduated from Southridge High School, and “let Christ into his heart” in 1988. A year earlier he had begun a career with Miami-Dade police, working patrol and general investigations. By 2002 he was assisting the Cavalry Chapel of Kendall and serving the police department as a reserve. He joined Miami full time this past March.
Avila said offering counsel and inspiration while continuing to serve as an officer makes it a bit easier for other cops to open their hearts to him. Of chaplains who aren’t officers, he worries that “a regular officer might think, ‘He doesn’t walk in my shoes.’ “