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April 2, 2015 9:00 am

Daytona Beach News-Journal article/published August 2, 2015
By Katie Kustura 

Volusia's first black female deputy retires

 Avis Burrows never really noticed, or cared, that she was the first black female deputy at the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.

"I hadn't thought about being the first this and that, I just liked what I was doing," said Burrows, 59.

And while the Sheriff's Office has hired its share of black women on the force since she started working in law enforcement 35 years ago, Burrows, who set the standard for service with a smile, retired last week.

"This is her idea, not ours," Sheriff Ben Johnson said with a laugh. "(Her leaving) is going to be a loss."

Before joining the Sheriff's Office as a telecommunicator in 1980, Burrows earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Bethune-Cookman College and dispatched for the Daytona Beach Police Department.

She said she hadn't planned on working in law enforcement, but, looking back, Burrows thinks there were people and events that may have pointed her subconscious in that direction.

When Burrows was 15 years old, she was on an overnight school field trip when the group checked into a hotel.

"There was an agency there working a sting, I don't know if it was prostitution or what, but there was this black woman in plainclothes and she had a police radio," Burrows said, adding she was impressed by the undercover officer's power and presence. "I often think about that, so it probably had something to do with my decision."

She also has relatives who work in law enforcement, but what really set things in motion was a chance meeting with a city hall employee when Burrows entered the government building to cool off in between college classes in 1977.

The employee suggested Burrows take the civil service exam, and she did just that, then began working as a dispatcher, a job she did for six years.

But even on her days off, she couldn't stay away and would go for ride-alongs with officers. 

After completing law enforcement training, Burrows began working as a judicial service officer. In 1992, she made a major change and was promoted to work as a road patrol deputy.

"When I became a deputy I was one of the guys," Burrows said.

She said her coworkers, mostly men, spoiled her like she was their baby sister, but she never let them forget she was "a tough little cookie."

"I'm in a different mode when I'm in that patrol car," Burrows said.

Though she worked night shift, there was only one time when she thought she "was going to send somebody to their maker."

She said a man with a broken bottle started to come at her, but after she pulled her service weapon the man surrendered.

In 1993, she began training others, preparing them to work as deputies in the field, and a few years later she became a school resource deputy, which she did up until her retirement.

Her presence throughout the years in various schools — Silver Sands Middle School, David C. Hinson Middle School, Holly Hill Middle School and Mainland High School — allowed her to spend more time with her own two sons and become a foster parent in 2000. Over the years she fostered more than 20 children, each staying with her from six months to three years, and all of them except for one had special needs.

"Out on the street it's a different environment," Burrows said. "At home with special needs children it is what it is: special. It's all heart."

Burrows received various honors for her work in law enforcement while with the Sheriff's Office including the first-ever Atkins Warren Award from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives in 2006.

With her fostering days behind her and retirement setting in, Burrows said she'll be dedicating most of her time to her two grandchildren and church activities. She also said she hopes to serve as a reserve deputy, which Johnson said he'd welcome.

Whatever Burrows decides to get into, it probably won't come as a surprise to those who know her best, like Deputy Beth Fortin.

"She inspired me that women in law enforcement can wear many different hats," Fortin said. "We can still be a mother, a mentor, a friend and still do our duties and put the criminals in jail."


Volusia County Sheriff's Office

Administrative offices: West Volusia 386-736-5961 Daytona Beach 386-254-4689 New Smyrna Beach 386-423-3352

Non-emergency dispatch numbers: DeLand 386-943-8276 Daytona Beach 386-239-8276 New Smyrna Beach 386-409-8276 Osteen 407-323-0151

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