Last year, Portland police officer Carlos Ibarra felt he’d never encourage anyone to join the bureau. Now, he again recognizes that he’s in one of the best careers in the world.

“I couldn’t imagine doing any other job and feeling such a sense of accomplishment,” Ibarra said. “This job fills that part in my heart, the desire to serve.”

Slim and respectful, 34-year-old Ibarra is a serious Catholic who spends break time praying in churches. He’d rather not reveal his parish, lest the information fall into the hands of someone who’d like to hurt a cop or his family. He’s been married for six years and has three children, ages 5, 1 and in the womb.

Ibarra had come to the San Francisco Bay area from Mexico at age 4 with family. His father used drugs and was abusive. In one of Ibarra’s early memories, his father had pinned the boy’s crying mother against a wall. Though only 4 or 5, little Carlos leaped on his father’s back to try to stop the assault.

Ibarra’s mother raised him and his three siblings alone by toiling long hours as a housekeeper, a job she still holds down. She also got her children involved in parish life. Young Carlos sang and played music at Masses starting at age 11.

When Ibarra was offered a spot at Oregon’s police academy in his early 20s, his mother was worried, but said she’d abide by God’s plan.

In a key lesson, the mother taught her children to stay close to the church and to love people regardless of what they’ve done.

“That’s easier said than done,” Ibarra admitted. “But at the end of the day, I know I have an obligation and I have to answer to God.”

When he moved to Portland to take the police job in 2012, he began looking even more deeply into his faith. Ibarra spent six years as a patrol officer, mostly in Southeast Portland. He felt himself getting emotionally detached as a defense mechanism against what he witnessed: chaos, debauchery, manipulation, greed and violence. Then he started praying about his experiences, asking God to give him the ability to remain compassionate and rational.

He still struggled with some duties, even though he knew they were of value. “Sometimes I have to be the bad guy,” he told the Sentinel in 2014. “Sometimes I have to take people to jail.”

Ibarra made the news after someone saw him pay out of his own pocket for a homeless father with seven children to stay the night in a motel.

Now, as a plainclothes officer in the domestic violence unit, Ibarra tracks down suspects and assists survivors in finding resources to move out and move on.

“It really takes a lot out of you,” he said. “I don’t think we are always emotionally prepared to see those things.”

It’s only by faith that he treats people with dignity and respect when he thinks they have murdered a child or abused a woman. Some officers get jaded in such instances or allow the rage to turn inward.

“Luckily for me I am in a position in which I can offer all of those emotions and all of those feelings to God,” he said.

Last summer, like every Portland police officer, Ibarra took shifts at the downtown protests and riots.

“Last year was the most difficult year of my career,” Ibarra said. “It was mainly draining because I had to see my family get dragged through this.”

His wife worried that anti-police factions would find their home. With a newborn, she felt isolated as her husband worked extended hours during protests and riots. His 4-year-old daughter clung to his leg and sobbed as he went out the door, not understanding but sensing.

Ibarra fulfilled his duty, in large part because he likes his fellow officers so much. But out on the line, nothing could soothe the roughness.

“You feel absolutely hated for essentially just doing a job, and a job that I think is very valuable,” Ibarra said. He is open to dialogue but has observed that talk does not work in such heated moments. In the face of shouted insults and obscenities, he silently turned the other cheek.

“I know the community wants to be heard because of the hurt that has been caused,” Ibarra said. “I also don’t think I need to take that personally.”

Before joining the domestic violence unit, Ibarra spent almost three years as a school resource officer, building relationships and giving guidance to students. His job was not to arrest young ne’er-do-wells, but to protect the campus, be a good example and deter young people from a life of crime. He liked the schools job because it gave him a chance to help families like the one in which he grew up.

“I would argue that the majority of what we do is similar to social work,” Ibarra said.

Father Ignacio Llorente of Portland has known Ibarra for almost a decade.

“He sees his profession as a policeman as a vocation of service,” Father Llorente said. “I know he struggled a lot last year. But he decided to stay and persevere.” The priest regularly sees Ibarra’s car parked outside a church where Ibarra is praying before the Eucharist.

Now preparing to take an exam to become a detective, Ibarra still loves police work — almost a ministry in his case.

“I really enjoy serving people, and what better job than to serve people when they are having one of their worst days?” Ibarra asked. “I still have a passion for this job. I enjoy having a purpose in what I do.”