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Police chief calls for “creative benefits” to relieve departmental staffing crunch


For the second time since he took office a year ago, Burlington’s chief of police has raised the alarm about the strain that recruitment and retention has placed on the city’s police force.

Last year, Brian Long kicked off his tenure as the city’s police chief by convincing Burlington’s city council to raise officer pay in the hope that the extra compensation would ease a severe staffing crunch within his agency.

Now, roughly a year into his term, Long has acknowledged that staffing remains a preeminent problem in spite of the increased remuneration that his subordinates get.

During a city council work session on Monday, Long informed the city’s elected leaders that defections from his department continue to outpace the agency’s new hires by a margin of two to one. He added that, in the past three months alone, the department has logged 11 departures – including two who have gone into retirement.

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“So, with every quarter or every six months that passes,” he told the council, “we’re not winning the war.”

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In the midst of this bloodletting, Long said that his agency has increasingly struggled to provide the level of service which area residents have come to expect from the city’s police force.

The police chief observed that, as a general rule, he needs a “bare minimum” of 56 fully-trained officers to answer critical emergency calls which are relayed to the department. He acknowledged that the pool from which he can draw these 56 officers has shrunk form 95 in 2019 to just 78 in 2022.

Long added that the patrol division’s depleted ranks have increasingly forced him to divert manpower from other areas of service. He noted that, in recent months, he has reassigned 8 of the 18 officers in his investigative division and 2 of the 5 that his department has loaned to the Alamance Narcotics Enforcement Team (ANET), a countywide taskforce devoted to drug interdiction.

Long predicted that, by the end of 2022, he’ll have to pull another investigator and another member of ANET to ensure that the patrol division has an adequate complement of officers. He also anticipated the reallocation of one of the city’s six school resource officers as well as one of his two specialized training officers.

“These are realities right now,” he said. “Nobody has made cognizant decisions to stop doing police work. But the realities are that when you have fewer officers, you have fewer opportunities for things like DWI interdiction.”

In spite of these dismal conditions, Long said that he still has a rather ambitious goal for his agency’s staffing. He admitted that he would ultimately like to “flip” his current ratio of defectors to newcomers so that his department welcomes 24 new recruits for every 12 who depart.

“Somehow someway we’ve got to create an opportunity to do this” he added, “and I think we can do that together.”

Long went on to inform the council that he hopes to reverse the department’s ongoing slide by offering “creative benefits” that give officers “greater flexibility” and “a healthy work/life balance.” He added that he believes he can pay for these benefits using the lapsed salaries that are already in his departmental budget.

But even with these changes, Long said that it would still take his agency 4 1/2 years to successfully complete the “flip” as he described.

In response to the police chief’s report, councilman Ronnie Wall suggested that Long present some more details about his “creative benefits” at the council’s regularly-scheduled meeting on October 18.

“What we need to do is improve,” he went on to stress.

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