WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - After nearly 50 years as a law enforcement officer, and 15 years as Wilmington’s top cop, Police Chief Ralph Evangelous is ready to retire.
After a brief stint as an auto mechanic, Evangelous started his law enforcement career at age 19 as a police cadet in Massachusetts. He then moved to the Los Angeles Police Department, where he rose in the ranks, eventually becoming the driver and body guard for Police Chief Daryl Gates. From there, Evangelous left to run his own police department in Temple, TX, before taking the job in Wilmington.
Reflecting back on his years in the Port City, Chief Evangelous remembers being surprised by the outward hostility towards police from some parts of the community. He says he had a little bit of culture shock when he first arrived.
“My first couple of years here, I was riding in a car in the Azalea Festival Parade and people were booing at us. I said to myself, 'Oh my God! What have I gotten myself into here?” Evangelous recalled.
Chief Evangelous said he quickly realized there a deep seeded divide, unique to the deep south, and he was going to do everything he could to show this community things could be better.
“It was a slow, methodical out reach to the community. Treating people with respect and allowing people to keep their dignity. OK, you can arrest someone and allow them to keep their dignity,” Evangelous explained of his efforts to improve relationships with the people his department serves. He says people usually welcome his officers now, and he’s proud of the changes his department has made.
His compassionate approach made a difference in the crime statistics, too. Despite a recent gang war, with many shootings making headlines in recent weeks, violent crime in Wilmington is half of what it was when Chief Evangelous got here.
He says relationships with other law enforcement agencies have improved as well.
“Let go of your ego. We let go of the egos and we get things done, and... that’s a success that we just have never seen.”
Chief Evangelous says he’s not exactly sure what’s next for him after his retirement at the end of January, but at this point, he plans to keep his home base in Wilmington. He’s even toying the with the idea of going to work at a refugee camp in Africa.
Evangelous hopes the next chief of police will build on what he’s done, and he says his officers are the ones who deserve the credit for the department’s recent accomplishments.