Huntsville Police academy looking for new site while dealing with fewer applications

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)-- Considering the climate of our nation surrounding policing following events across the country, it's not exactly a popular time to become a police officer, admits Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray.

"Our recruitment applications are running half of what they were last year," he noted. "It's just not a popular time to be looking for a police officer career."

He said the growing force is also growing in diversity, hitting its highest diversity percentage yet of 21% this year. But there's still more work to do.

"It makes the whole department stronger," he said. "Our goal is to exactly reflect the minority makeup of the community," he explained, noting the department needs all minorities, but specifically is in need of minority female police officers.

"Fewer applicants, it hurts our recruitment for minorities, especially for minority women right now which is where we're shortest in the department."

While the department is hoping for more applicants (the deadline to apply for the latest round of the academy is September 30,) they're going to be training them in a new place. The city and police department are searching for a new place to host the academy, because the old building will soon be redeveloped. The current building is used for the joint police and fire City of Huntsville Public Safety Training Academy.

"With our academy starting in March, we really need to be in place by the first of the year," explained Chief McMurray. He's confident they'll get there, but right now a few months away from the target date, nothing is set in stone yet. "We're looking at old schools where we can set up quickly, adapt," he explained. "Maybe an old military guard place somewhere. There's different options around the city."

He knows it will not be easy, though.

"We're still within our window, but it is a challenge for us to put an academy together and put it in place," he said.

The department is actually preparing for one additional academy this upcoming year, the first time in department history they've been granted approval to hold two academies in one year.

"That's never been done," said McMurray. "We're looking forward to that."

No matter where the academy ends up this March, it will be a temporary location. McMurray said the police department has funding to build a new police academy.

"We need approximately five to eight acres of land," he explained, noting that a location hasn't been chosen yet but several are being scouted.

McMurray asks anyone interested in becoming a police officer to "step up and join the force." He also extended an invitation to the public to participate in the Citizen Observer program to observe an officer for eight hours.

McMurray said police officer job is rewarding, even though it's difficult.

"It's a unique opportunity to enter people's lives when they need you the most," he explained.