WEST ALEXANDRIA — Officer Dorothy Stringer was in her forties when she decided to follow her dream of becoming a police officer. She graduated from Edison State Community College’s Basic Peace Officer Academy in December 2019.
“It’s a lot of training: very in-depth, very rigorous,” Stringer said of the school’s intensive six-month program. “It’s not easy. First you’ve got to make it there, and then you’ve got to do well. They want to make sure they’re putting someone qualified out there to enforce their laws.”
The program runs six days a week, according to Stringer, who completed the course while working full-time. Students also have to prove they can meet the program’s physical fitness requirements, which include being able to run for a mile and a half.
“If God forbid you have to go toe-to-toe with someone, you need to be able to hold your own until back-up arrives,” Stringer said, underlining the necessity of strict physical fitness standards. “If you can’t run a mile and a half, you’re not going to last 30 seconds in a fight.”
Stringer went through the program twice, the result of a serious ankle injury that sidelined her during her first time through.
“Once it was healed, I went right back at it. I wasn’t giving up. That’s where my passion for law enforcement really came through,” Stringer said. “If you have a dream, go for it. Don’t ever give up. You just have to keep trying until you succeed.”
Stringer joined the West Alexandria Police Department as an auxiliary officer in April. She’ll move to part-time status after completing her on-the-job training as a volunteer.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Stringer said. “But I had kids young. Now that my kids are grown, and I have grandkids, it’s my turn to follow my dreams.”
Stringer’s cohort in the Edison program was the first in the region to include more female students than male, she said, something she credits to the example being set by current female police officers.
“I think a lot of women are empowered by seeing other women do it,” Stringer said. “So they’re stepping out and following their dreams as well. We’re going to see a lot more women in law enforcement in the years to come.”
“I think women bring a lot to the table as far as law enforcement goes,” Stringer continued. “We have care, compassion, empathy, and an inner strength that’s amazing.”
Assistant Police Chief Mike McDonald said that Stringer’s life experience is part of what made her an attractive applicant as a police officer.
“One of the reasons I liked her is because she’s not some 20-year-old student coming right out of her mama’s house,” McDonald said. “When I went through my last police academy I was 22. To be willing to go through that at this stage of life really says something about her character. I couldn’t do it.”
Like McDonald, Stringer was drawn more to the service side of police work than the side dealing with enforcement.
“People think it’s just about fighting crime or writing citations, but it’s not,” Stringer said. “We can help people find solutions. Law enforcement gives a voice to people who don’t have a voice.”
This includes people struggling with substance abuse and other crises, according to Stringer.
“Not everybody that’s a drug addict is a bad person,” Stringer said. “People that have a major crisis in their life, like drug abuse, mental health, suicide. We can get them into treatment, get them on a better path.”
In the meantime, Stringer has been enjoying getting to know the people of the village she now serves.
“I’m really honored to have been chosen to be a part of this police department. I can’t tell you how amazing it’s been,” Stringer said. “The chief has been taking me out and introducing me to members of the community, and everybody has been so nice.”
“It’s an honor to be able to serve this community,” Stringer continued. “It’s the best feeling you could possibly have.”