WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The Wilmington Police Department graduated 13 new officers into their police force Friday evening.
"We have males, females, minorities- it's a great group, and they're all top notch," said Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous.
Mel Atento, a new recruit with the department, said he is ready for the challenges that await him as a WPD officer.
"I'm excited but also nervous because it's a new thing, a new adventure," explained Atento.
Now, the department hopes they'll keep their new officers on-staff for many years to come.
In a meeting Monday, Chief Evangelous stated that his veteran officers were leaving for other jobs due to low pay from the city.
Evangelous asked the city to consider making changes to the pay structure so that officers received higher salaries.
At the ceremony Friday, Ron Evans, a WPD recruiter, echoed the chief's sentiments on pay changes.
"Of course there's the issue of pay and there's the issue of a number of other things," said Evans.
Evangelous said that he hopes Wilmington City Council will make changes so the department can retain more of its officers in the future.
"That's a big piece of how we pull this together and stop them from leaving," said Evangelous.
According to data from WPD, the department has lost 24 officers since January 2013. Five officers retired, but the majority of the remaining 19 left for higher paying jobs in law enforcement.
Evangelous and Evans are hoping this recent trend comes to a halt. Evans said his latest crop of officers could represent that change.
"I firmly believe just with this group here that I've been dealing with over the past six to 12 months that they want to be in Wilmington. They want to stay in Wilmington," Evans stated.
Mel Atento could very well be one of those long-term officers.
"Just take it one day at a time, one day at a time," said Atento.
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