With a notebook and pencils in tow, a gun in his holster and handcuffs in his back pocket, Captain Brian Long is ready for the first day of class.
“You’re taken aback at first. You’re like, woah, did something happen, like there’s a cop in here. But he’s a very friendly guy. He sat right down like, ‘alright, here to learn,’ just like everyone else,” said Elon senior Casey Nelson.
Long has been working for the Burlington Police Department for the past 23 years. This year, he decided to expand his area of expertise by enrolling in Elon’s capstone class “Prison Nation: Deconstructing the Prison Industrial Complex.”
“We have the ability to take people away from their homes, arrest them and charge them with crimes. That’s a heavy burden on an officer that plays an important role in society,” Long said. “The more educated you are on the impacts on individuals and families when those arrests are made, I think you just better prepare yourself.”
As a criminal justice minor, Nelson says having Long as her classmate is giving her a new perspective.
“It’s like bringing an internship, bringing these people who are gonna mentor you and teach you all these things you wouldn’t learn unless you’re actually in the field, right into the classroom. It’s incredible,” Nelson said.
While Long would like to act as a sounding board for other students’ questions, he hopes to be treated like a fellow classmate.
“I don’t know if as many of them see me as a police officer as they do a student, and that’s kind of welcoming,” Long said. “I don’t sense that they’re fearful or concerned about my presence. I hope that students would not be more reserved in their comments or concerned about offending me. I will get value out of hearing their perspectives.”
This is exactly why Chief Jeffrey Smythe recommended the class to his colleague after taking it last year. Smythe says that as the leader of the Burlington police force, being around people who have different perspectives is critical in effectively serving the community.
“People talk about the Elon bubble, right? Are the students in an Elon bubble? Well, there’s certainly a law enforcement bubble,” Smythe said. “Our patrol officers go out everyday and risk their lives, and so they’re constantly concerned about being able to get home to their friends and family, and that colors the way we think.”
Smythe encourages his officers to take advantage of opportunities, like this class, in order to be active members in the community.
“We encourage our officers to still go to their volleyball league, and still go to church, and those kind of things outside of police work,” Smythe said. “It breaks the Elon bubble and it breaks the cop bubble, too.”
With the semester ahead of him, Long hopes that opening the lines of communication will bridge the divide between the police force and the community.
“We have to be willing to listen to others’ experiences and learn from those experiences, be open-minded, and have conversation. It’s critical to law enforcement right now, obviously, that we listen. I think by engaging in a class like this, and the students being willing to engage in conversation, it can’t have anything but a positive outcome.”