DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) - Dothan Police are working to fill vacancies in the police department. The department held the physical fitness assessment for candidates Wednesday at Westgate Park.
Of the 70 applicants, 36 were eligible to move forward in the application process, but only 22 showed up for the physical test. While the department only plans to fill 9 positions, the low candidate pool is concerning.
"We've definitely seen a decrease in the number of people who want to go into law enforcement," said Captain Bubba Ott, Dothan Police.
Both Captain Ott and Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish remember a time when hundreds of candidates would apply and departments could ensure they are picking the cream of the crop.
"There's been a lot of distrust in law enforcement over the past several years – and a lot of support, so we're thankful for that. We just keep plugging away and trying to get the best people we can to fill slots," said Chief Parrish.
And filling slots at times seems never ending.
"We're in a constant state of training and turnover," said Captian Ott. "The average time on the street for an officer in Dothan as a patrol is 3 years. Chances are if you call 911 today, the guy you're dealing with is relatively new to the job and that doesn't always translate into great service."
Stormie Knight was one of the candidates who showed up for the physical training. She said her dad influenced her to want to become an officer.
"My dad was in law enforcement and growing up and being around it, I started to fall in love with it," said Knight.
During the physical test, applicants got a small glimpse of what it would be like to work as an officer. Candidates completed a 1 and ½ mile run, push-up and sit-up test, and a simulation obstacle course, but officers say it doesn't even scratch the surface of job demands.
"If hired they'll be held to a higher standard than APOST (Alabama Peace Officers Standard and Training Commission) or the state will ever expect them to be," said Captain Ott.
That high standard could cost them their life. In an open letter to recruits, which has been shared hundreds of times on social media, Chief Parrish challenged recruits to reflect on their ability to protect and serve as reports surface that school resource police officers allegedly did not respond to assist students in the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
"I tell every recruit when you take the oath of office you're swearing, 'So, help me God'. Those are very, very important words. You're swearing that you're going to do that and if you're not going to do that at the Dothan Police Department, I don't want you here," said Chief Parrish.
"If you can stand outside that door and listen to kids die – while you sit there fully capable and prepared with weapons and tactics and everything you need to make that stop. If you can sit outside that door and do that, then you and I don't adhere to the same theory when it comes to honor and integrity and sacrifice," said Captain Ott.
Recruits say the letter did challenge them to reflect before they made their next step.
"I had to sit there and think a little bit harder – is this really what I want to do. After thinking about it, and I read it while I was sitting with my dad, I knew I still wanted to be here today," said Knight.
The department says it's not sure if the letter was the reason some decided not to move forward in the application process.
Candidates who pass the physical test, will take the written test and could get a formal interview.