New Public Safety programs dean Justin Long loved serving in law enforcement and now he's training the next generation

headshot of justin smilingLong before he was investigating crime scenes with his K9, Renzo, Justin Long was a young kid growing up on his family farm in Roxboro with herds of cattle, vegetable rows, and a bell that rang for dinner.

His family called it Bloomsdale – 120 acres of farmland where three generations lived. There were six houses on the farm, all built by Long family hands. His parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all grew up within walking distance of each other.

Days off didn’t exist. There was always something that needed to be done, and that instilled a strong work ethic in Long.

“It was a big thing in our family. You work. You support yourself, you support your family, and you do what you can to support your community,’” he said.

That work ethic has served the 36-year-old well as the new Dean of Human Services and Public Safety at Durham Technical Community College.

Finding his path

Law enforcement wasn’t always at the forefront of his mind. A fateful meeting with his high school guidance counselor is ultimately what changed the trajectory of his life.

“When I was 16, I had absolutely no aspirations to do anything. I didn’t like school, I was barely passing my classes, and I didn’t have any plans for the future,” he said. “My guidance counselor registered me in the dual enrollment program at Piedmont Community College and told me to give criminal justice a try.”

He fell in love with law enforcement.

“I’m a product of the community college system. I was lost and had no plans, but I finally found my path at Piedmont,” he said.

During the program, he got an office internship with the Person County Sheriff’s Office and had opportunities to do ride-alongs to get a firsthand look at law enforcement life. That internship led to his first job in the field.

“The Sheriff told me he saw my face enough, he might as well pay me,” Long said.

He became a 911 telecommunicator straight out of high school and that same year he completed Basic Law Enforcement Training at Vance-Granville Community College.

Since the Person County Sheriff’s Office was a small agency, Long was assigned to a variety of positions during his tenure. He served as a court bailiff, patrol officer, crime scene investigator, and his favorite – the K9 unit.

“Working with my K9 Renzo was the best job I ever had in law enforcement,” he said. “I loved having him as my partner every day at work and he became a beloved member and protector of my family at home.”

person with dog in front of police car
Long with K9, Renzo.
While serving on the K9 unit, Long also enrolled in the Emergency Disaster Management program at Western Carolina University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 2009. Four years later he earned a master’s degree in Homeland Security from American Public University.

Coming full circle

While attending a Person County Leadership Program in 2010, he met the president of Piedmont Community College and struck up a conversation about emergency management, which ultimately led to a full-time job offer as their Student Safety Coordinator. He also taught criminal justice courses, and later became the Director of Public Safety programs.

“I was grateful for the opportunity to teach at Piedmont and share my passion for law enforcement with other students like me,” he said. “From a first-year student who was lost, to an instructor, and then administrator, it was such a rewarding opportunity. It really brought everything full circle for me.”

After five years, Long left Piedmont to work at Durham Tech as a Qualified Assistant in the BLET program. He worked alongside the City of Durham Police Academy at Durham Tech’s Northern Durham Center (NDC).

“Working for law enforcement is a rewarding experience and I think I’ve carried that to working in community colleges. Our big push in public safety is serving the needs of the community, and community colleges do just that,” Long said.

One of his proudest accomplishments at Durham Tech has been the adoption of Credits for Prior Learning (CPL) by the North Carolina Community College System, which awards college-level credit through continuing education public safety courses.

“It was a big deal for the state to recognize that because public safety folks are putting in hours and hours of continuing education training that are equivalent to the degree classes, but weren’t getting credit for the trainings toward a college degree,” he said. “Agencies offer a lot of educational incentives and we have seen a real uptick in enrollment since the adoption of CPL. Public safety hasn’t always been a college degree driven field of study, but we’re starting to see a lot more interest now.”

Long also played a significant role in the development of the new Public Service Management program and Public Safety Administration program.

Meeting community needs

Long’s accomplishments did not go unnoticed, and in July 2021, he was asked to step in as interim dean of Human Services and Public Safety programs at Durham Tech.

Dr. Kara Battle, Chief Academic Officer at Durham Tech, and President J.B. Buxton later met with Long to offer him the full-time dean position.

“I was in shock and wasn’t expecting that to happen. I’m the youngest person in my division and I had no foresight of ever being at this level in the program, but it’s been really great. I’ve got a good team,” Long said. “I’ve really enjoyed expanding into other fields of public safety.”

Battle said Long was the perfect person for the job.

“Justin has a great understanding of the needs of the Northern Durham Center as they relate to Public Safety and he has good, strong relationships with our local law enforcement partners,” Battle said. “He is constantly scanning the landscape to determine what we as a college should be focusing on next. He understands the needs of our community and moves quickly to address those needs.”

One of his first goals as dean was to meet one-on-one with all public safety agencies in the Triangle and talk to them about their training needs, then position Durham Tech to provide that training. Among the needs identified were staffing shortages in 911 call centers, and by December 2021 the College announced a partnership with the City of Durham to meet this need.

In Spring 2022, the Durham Tech 911 Academy will open at the Northern Durham Center, and will centralize training efforts for the City of Durham, Durham County, and Orange County to provide comprehensive and uniform training for dispatchers.

“This program aligns with our new strategic plan because we’re focusing heavy on workforce training and reaching out to our community partners to see what needs they have,” he said.

Last year the College also partnered with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office to serve as the hub for their training division at NDC, including BLET academies, the detention officer certification program, and in-service training.

Long has big goals for NDC in the future.

“I want this campus to become a fully-functioning public safety facility, offering everything we do now, but also add a driving tracking, a simulation lab for EMS training, and equipment for firefighter training,” he said.

sunset over water
Long family farm at Bloomsdale.

‘Light in the darkness’

“It’s amazing to see some cadets take our BLET academy at just 19 years old and then come back seven years later to take one of my supervisor instructor courses. Seeing them advance has been really special,” he said. “Anyone that wants a career in public safety has really got to have a driving passion for community service. If you don’t come in to the profession with that passion to serve the community and to be that light in the darkness, you won’t make it through your first year on the street.”

Though his career has grown leaps and bounds, Long has stayed true to his family roots. He never left the farm, which has since contracted with the North Carolina Forest Service to farm pine trees, and he built the seventh house – with a general contractor.

He lives there with his wife, Kristen, and four children – now home to four generations of the Long family.
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