FERGUSON, Mo. — Protesters waved signs at Patrick Melvin II as he drove through town one late October day, but he didn’t have time to read what they said.

Melvin was focused on finding Ferguson police headquarters, hoping an interview would land him a law enforcement internship to work alongside the officers at the center of national controversy over police tactics and race.

Now, about one month into that internship, the Harris-Stowe State University senior from Phoenix wants to pin on a Ferguson badge.

But he’ll have to get in line. A long one.

The department has received more than 1,000 applications for one open dispatcher’s position. The 20 or so applications on file for a patrolman’s opening about doubled since Officer Darren Wilson shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 9. That spot remains unfilled, as do vacancies from two newer resignations: from Wilson and one other officer.

More than six months after Wilson’s shooting of Brown made Ferguson a household name, its story is playing out in sometimes surprising ways.

Invitations for public appearances are sending Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson and Mayor James Knowles III across the country.

“For better or worse, Ferguson will be noted as a catalyst for positive changes in policing,” Jackson said. “And moving forward, I believe people want to be part of that.”

That attention has cut both ways.

He said nobody from the city was invited to the University of Chicago to respond to criticism that Ferguson police dealt differently with different neighborhoods.

“I don’t have an ego about it all, but what I say is, if you’re going to have conversation about it, you need to have a primary source,” Knowles said.

He also criticized Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s formation of the Ferguson Commission without anyone from Ferguson among the appointees.

At the same time, Knowles said his wife complains that it takes him too long to make a trip to the grocery store because, “People stop me at the store for pictures and hugs and say, ‘We love Ferguson,’ and, ‘You’re doing as good as you can.’ ”

The mayor said he has been invited to speak before some religious services, yet told by others in the clergy that they “won’t even be in the same room with me.”

While this swirls on the outside, Melvin, the intern, said he looks beyond criticisms in the news.

“I definitely see Ferguson going through a rebuilding,” the young black man said. “And like the chief said, a lot of people want to help and be part of a positive name for Ferguson P.D.”