A long-awaited class of 40 new Suffolk Police Department recruits was sworn in Wednesday, a new crop of future officers hired to offset officer retirements and other attrition.

The class is the first to enter the academy under a lower pay scale for new hires, which officials say will save the county $706,000 next year.

Lt. Robert Sweeney, commanding officer of the academy's training section, called the class a "very diverse group," citing their past work experiences, including one recruit who served on the NYPD's civilian complaint review board.

During a swearing-in ceremony in the academy's gymnasium in Brentwood, Police Commissioner Edward Webber and County Executive Steve Bellone praised the 162nd recruit class.

"What you are entering into is, in my opinion, one of the most important things we do in government . . . protecting the people in the county," Bellone said.

Next year, Bellone hopes to add another 36 officers to the department by transferring county parks officers. The new hires will earn a starting salary of $42,000 but take 12 years to reach the top pay scale and will earn about $30,000 less than their veteran counterparts under a new contract.

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Some critics have questioned whether the transfers are legal. A Bellone spokeswoman said the county executive will seek special legislation in Albany for the move in January.

Since Jan. 1, about 80 officers have left the department, leaving 2,354 filled sworn police positions. Bellone also has proposed a police class of another 50 in his 2014 budget, which seeks a 2.34 percent police district tax hike.

"I have a lot of experience helping victims of crimes -- specifically domestic violence," said Bethany K. Green, 33, of Smithtown, a former Suffolk prosecutor and one of two recruits who academy officials picked to speak to the media. "I have a passion for public service and am absolutely thrilled to serve," said Green, an Army veteran and National Guard member.

Eighteen recruits are from small departments.

One recruit, Randy Wahid, a National Guardsman and six-year Army veteran, said he aspires to be a homicide detective. "Because I've already been in the military, some of it comes easy to me," said Wahid, 23, of Queens.

Seventy-five percent, or 30 of the recruits, are Caucasian. Twenty percent are Hispanic, 2.5 percent African-American and 2.5 percent Asian. Thirty-four, or 85 percent, are male. About 67 percent have military experience.

Suffolk has a long-standing consent agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to increase minority hiring.