Jose Chavez wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life, but his enlistment in the U.S. Army quickly put him on an avenue to success.
“It’s the proudest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “I was honored to serve this country. The military was instrumental in setting a base for what I do now.”
As the sheriff’s deputy chief, Chavez oversees the 26-person patrol division, five school resource deputies, the courthouse security team, dispatchers, civil processors and the criminal investigations division.
“In law enforcement, we’re trying to make a positive impact on people’s lives,” he said. “I look at it like we’re transforming one life at a time.”
Chavez attributes much of his success in the military and law enforcement to his wife, Sue, and two daughters.
“My wife has a good ear to listen. She even fielded calls (from supervisors) when I was asleep. They knew I didn’t wake up fast, so they would tell her what was going on before I was awake enough to take the call. No man could have had a better wife or children,” he said.
Sue Chavez jokingly said she was familiar with the life of a law enforcement officer because her brother served in California and her father was a “bobby” in England.
“The military and law enforcement are very similar so I was used to it. Although it [law enforcement] is better than the military because things [deployments] are so unexpected,” she said. “I’ve always been proud of the profession he chose. If he didn’t come home on time I figured he was doing something important. If I cooked and he wasn’t there for dinner, I’d just warm it up when he got home.”
• In the community
Without a doubt, Chavez is making significant contributions to Cleveland County and its citizens. In 1996, he co-founded the Mary Abbott Child Victim Investigations Unit in Norman. The Mary Abbott Children's House is a safe place for youngsters who are crime victims or have witnessed crimes. The facility provides forensic interviews, medical assessments, advocacy and education that focuses on the signs of abuse and how to report suspected abuse.
Abbott House is one of about 750 independent Children’s Advocacy Centers across the nation accredited by the National Children’s Alliance and is charged with serving Cleveland, McClain and Garvin counties. Abbott House also serves counties outside of its primary jurisdiction, assisting 19 Oklahoma counties in the last year.
“We have a multi-disciplinary team that includes medical staff, law enforcement officers and counselors. We work together to develop investigative techniques to assist child victims,” Chavez said.
Mecca Morgan, a Department of Human Services welfare worker specialist, investigated cases alongside Chavez when the Abbott House opened.
“He is fabulous,” Morgan said. “He is one of the best detectives I ever worked with. He worked hard and went above and beyond to help the kids. He kept the children in mind with everything he did.”
In some cases, Chavez would find ways to pursue the case if the child victim was too scared to undergo invasive medical exams. Sometimes, those procedures weren’t needed.
“When he interviewed suspects he almost always came out with a confession,” Morgan said. “He just had a way of talking to people. I would say nine times out of 10 he got a confession. He was just passionate about kids and families.”
Jeannine Baker, who served as the Abbott House executive director from 1998-2010, said Chavez was instrumental in bringing law enforcement into the Abbott House and creating a cohesive team of workers to investigate child abuse and child death cases.
“It took several years to get law enforcement there and he was instrumental in getting them located there,” she said.
Chavez’s passion for his work, especially with child victims, can never be matched, Baker said.
“I’ve never seen anybody more dedicated to children. He doesn’t watch the clock. I have seen him come in on holidays, at night and on weekends. He would work as long as it took to get it right,” she said. “No matter what he was going, no matter what the project is, he will always find a way to make the situation better.”
• Military time
The year was 1974 and Chavez wasn’t making it in the college world. He had few options, but the one that appealed to him most was the U.S. Army. Perhaps that was because of his father who spent 26 years in the Army. The elder Chavez was deployed to the Korean and Vietnam wars, was wounded, earned the Bronze Star and was awarded two Purple Hearts.
During his 20 years of military duty, Chavez worked as a military policeman, an agent with the Criminal Investigations Command, white-collar crime specialist and polygraph examiner. His military career took him to several posts including Italy, Germany, Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Riley, Kan.
While deployed in Europe, the younger Chavez worked with German and Italian law enforcement officials.
“Who else gets that chance?” he said. “The military provided me a living and it allowed me to truly realize how blessed I am. We take so many things for granted in this country.”
During the Gulf War in 1990, Chavez wasa polygraph examiner but he still suffered from the tragic effects of Scud missiles and the devastation of war.
“It was not pleasant,” he recalled. “It was a scary experience.”
The most rewarding military experience for Chavez occurred in 1981 when he provided intelligence information for a unit that rescued U.S. General James Dozier. The general had been kidnapped in Italy by members of the Italian Red Brigade’s Marxist terrorist group. He was held captive in Verona, Italy, for 42 days before the rescue.
• Lawman’s career
After leaving the military and spending one year as a corporate loss specialist with a large retail outlet, Chavez entered law enforcement with the Norman Police Department in 1995. He stayed there until 2009 when he joined the sheriff’s office.
As a Norman police officer, Chavez worked as a patrolman and later was moved to the special operations unit which often participated in covert drug operations. He also was assigned to the criminal investigations division as a detective.
“It’s a 24/7 job and my family understood that,” he said.
But that career hasn’t been all roses, glitz or glamor. In one instance, he received criticism from his colleagues for not shooting a woman who pointed a gun at him.
“We were executing a search warrant on a meth lab. We entered the home and went into a room and noticed a woman with a pistol. I charged her and took the gun away before she could shoot,” Chavez recalled. “I was criticized for not shooting her but that was my way of dealing with the situation.”
For Chavez it was a good day. Everybody left the house safe, no shots were fired and no one —police or suspects —died.
Chavez’s boss, Sheriff Todd Gibson, calls his deputy chief “one of the agency’s greatest assets.”
“Chief’s dedication to mentoring the men and women serving in patrol and the criminal investigation detachment is unparalleled. While his years of courageous protection and compassionate service in the military, protecting child victims at Mary Abbott House and now at the sheriff’s office are outstanding, his true legacy will be seen into the future through his mentorship of the next generation.”
Gibson said a great leader leaves each place he touches better than he found it, and Chavez is no exception.
“I have truly appreciated Jose’s support and commitment to the sheriff’s office and to the people of Cleveland County,” the sheriff said. “His long investment in this agency and in the community are invaluable. He shows up every day and gives 120% effort.”