Brian Long didn’t initially join the queue of job applicants who hoped to succeed the city’s former police chief Jeff Smythe when he retired from his position this spring.
Although he was serving as one of the police department’s two assistant chiefs when Smythe gave up the helm, Long’s first instinct as a 26-year veteran of the city’s police force was to take himself out of the running for the department’s top job.
“I had some concerns about my tenure and the time that I had left,” Long recalled in an interview earlier this week. “The way I look at it is that if start mowing your yard, I want to finish mowing your yard.”
Long’s decision to bow out of contention may’ve seemed like so many grass clippings under the mower blade by the time that Burlington’s city manager Hardin Watkins revealed his original pick for the police chief’s position over the summer.
On August 10, Watkins announced that he’d tapped Rich Austin, a small town police chief from Georgia, to replace Smythe, who had likewise headed a modest police force outside North Carolina before he took over Burlington’s police department in 2014.
Things nevertheless took an unexpected turn later that month when Austin abruptly backed away from the city manager’s offer. This time, Long opted to dust off his résumé when the city manager returned to his search, and his decision paid off two weeks ago when Watkins announced Long’s selection as the city’s new chief of police.
Long, who officially began his tenure as chief last Tuesday, is slated to take a formal oath of office in a public ceremony at Burlington’s historic railroad depot on Friday afternoon. In the meantime, the newly installed chief has already begun to settle in to his elevated position at the city’s police department.
Although Long is quick to point out that he’s barely a week into his tenure as chief, he makes no bones about the vision that he has for the agency to which he has dedicated his entire career.
“The biggest thing right now is that we’re concerned about our staffing,” Long went on explain. “We have a high call volume right now…and we want to create a work environment where officers have to ability to do police work that they enjoy and have an impact on the community.”
Long’s attentiveness to the community is more than a mere rhetorical flourish for this longtime law enforcement professional.
A native of Burlington, Long embarked on a career in public safety not long after he graduated from Western High School in 1990. The future police chief initially studied criminal justice technology at Alamance County College before he matriculated to Mt. Olive University, where went on to receive a B.A. in criminology and criminal justice.
Long was soon able to put his degree to good use when joined Burlington’s municipal police force on the first day of January in 1995.
Like many new officers, Long began his stint with the department as a regular beat cop in the patrol unit. It wasn’t long before he was promoted to the department’s investigative division, where he wound up assigned to two federal details – a DEA task force as a narcotics investigator and an anti-fraud squad that reported to the U.S. Secret Service. Long expanded his experience with the feds even further in 2014 when he did a turn in Quantico, Virginia as participant in the FBI’s 258th National Academy.
By the time he left Quantico, Long had already begun his ascent through the leadership ranks of the city’s police department. As a member of the agency’s top brass, the city’s future police chief had been a leading exponent in the use of intelligence as a crime-fighting tool. He has been particularly instrumental in shifting the department’s strategy for personnel allocation from a traditional model based on incident reports to one that relies on intelligence about violent crimes to distribute patrol officers. Long has also been an advocate of better, more innovative responses to mental health crises and has spearheaded the department’s co-responder program, which pairs officers with mental health professionals when they go out on mental health calls.
“My staff wants to do joint work with other law enforcement agencies. I’ve already had good conversations with other chiefs in the area, and we’re all committed to the same goal, which is to have the safest community that we can.” – Brian Long, Burlington’s new chief of police
In his new role as Burlington’s police chief, Long is determined to see his contributions to law enforcement extend beyond the borders of his own jurisdiction. Among his priorities as chief is to encourage interagency collaboration whenever it’s prudent.
“My staff wants to do joint work with other law enforcement agencies,” he stressed. “I’ve already had good conversations with other chiefs in the area, and we’re all committed to the same goal, which is to have the safest community that we can.”
Long goes on to concede that his interest in the community isn’t just limited to the area of law enforcement. Among his extracurricular activities, the city’s new chief of police serves as a board member for the local chapter of the United Way and is part of the Alumni Council at Alamance Community College.
Long also spends much of his free time in the company of his wife, Melissa, and his three daughters, who range in age from 14 to 28. He admits that he’s especially partial to family outings at the lake and gatherings at the Virginia International Raceway to see cars maneuver at speeds that would ordinarily have him reach for his ticket book.
When all is said and done, Long admits that these small slices of life are the very things he has worked to protect throughout his career with the police department.
“I think the most important thing is that I started my career working in the community, and I want to end my career working in the community,” he said. “I’m just overwhelmed with excitement to get going.”