OTTUMWA — The final few weeks of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy couldn't end soon enough for Alexa Mikita. The excitement was fairly palpable.

Two months after being hired, but with several rigorous weeks ahead, Mikita finally began a job she always wanted.

With her first shift at the Wapello County Sheriff's Department last week, Mikita became the first female deputy sheriff in the department's history.

"A lot of people say there is a turning point when they know what they want to do, but that didn't happen to me," Mikita said. "It's just something I've always known. I just never worried about that."

Mikita isn't a law enforcement novice. She was a reserve deputy for the department, and spent 2 1/2 years as a dispatcher with the Ottumwa Police Department. She also was a deputy sheriff in Keokuk County.

But, the opportunity to be a deputy in the area where she grew up was something she couldn't pass up.

"I think working as a dispatcher was really helpful in seeing the other side of things," she said. "It helped me prepare. Working in a sheriff's office feels more like a team. It's more like a family."

Sheriff Don Phillips was impressed with Mikita's credentials. He said she'd applied three years ago, but it was at a time when the office was hiring consistently, and there were officers in the law enforcement academy in Johnston for almost a year.

"What stuck out to me about her is that her heart is in it, and it has to if you want to be successful in this business," said Phillips, who officially hired Mikita in early July. "She has a lot of drive to learn and wants to do it.

"She has the right demeanor for the job," he said. "She's going to be a good fit here. Wednesday through Friday last week she went out on a drive with the others, and they all gave her a hard time. She played right along with it, and that's good to see."

An officer must endure 16 weeks of training at the academy before taking a job, but must also be sponsored by a law enforcement agency. Mikita completed four weeks of that training while working for Keokuk County, then went back to finish it as part of her training for the current job.

"There is a lot of hands-on, and there are a lot of codes to learn about what you can and can't do in Iowa," she said. "But what they really do is put you in high-stress situations to get your heart rate up, but also to control yourself.

"In these times, it's really helpful to focus on de-escalation," Mikita said. "At the end of the day, if you go home safe and the community does as well, you've done your job."

The fact that Mikita is the first female deputy in the department is not lost on either Phillips or Mikita, though both have kept it in perspective.

"I've thought about it, and it's pretty cool," she said. "But I'm really just doing the same job as everyone else. I'm just grateful for the opportunity."

"It's exciting for us," Phillips said. "We haven't been at full staff for over a year, but now we are, and we're blazing a bit of a trail while doing it."

When Mikita was at the academy, there was one thing she noticed — the dearth of women in law enforcement. There is a more personal touch that Mikita believes she can bring, when a stereotype of law enforcement officers is that they are male.

"I think there is a little bit of an advantage there, especially if there are domestics, sex crimes, etc." she said. "I think women may be more able to talk with each other.

"It's getting better, but I'd like to see more women in law enforcement," she said. "But for me, I can't imagine doing anything else. The academy prepared me for what's to come, but this isn't play anymore."

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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