WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — The Waterbury Police Academy presented 31 recruits Thursday night at the Palace Theater.

Eighteen recruits will join the Waterbury Police Department. The rest will be working in other areas across the state, including New Haven, West Hartford, Southington, Stamford, Newtown, Mohegan Sun, and Naugatuck.

The recruits completed 32 weeks of instruction from the academy. The graduating class includes 5 women and 26 men. Next, the officers will begin their field training in their respective towns.

“It is, in fact, a calling. Most of them, if asked, would acknowledge they wanted to be a cop since they were a little kid,” said Patrick Griffin, a state attorney.

Herbert Curtis cheered on his daughter, Gabrielle, who became a New Haven Police officer. Last fall, the department reported 70 vacancies.

“I’m very proud. I have a niece and two nephews who are on the force. Hopefully, she’ll make a difference,” Curtis said. “New Haven is behind her.”

Police agencies have struggled to recruit people to join the force as crime increases and tensions grow between those who wear the badge and communities of color.

“We need police officers like never before,” Waterbury Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo said. “We need to attract people to this profession. We need to attract new young folks who want to serve their community, who want to reflect what their communities are, believe in.”

The academy received over 100 applicants.

Griffin, the keynote speaker, left graduates with this message:

“Now, this is your chance to build relationships that frankly have not existed before and reestablish trust with those communities that have lost faith in the criminal justice system. That is the charge of the next generation of police officers.”