A Bridge to Safety
A new connection between law enforcement training programs at Brunswick Community College benefits students and increases the community’s overall safety.
As the population of Brunswick County grows, so does the community’s need for increased safety and security. For more than two decades, Brunswick County Community College’s Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) program has successfully produced highly trained and qualified law enforcement officer candidates. As a way to further meet the needs of local law enforcement agencies, this past year the college added an associate degree program in Criminal Justice Technology. Working together, the programs aim to train and prepare more highly skilled officers to better the community.
Now in its second semester, the Criminal Justice (CJ) Technology program gives students not yet old enough to enter the BLET program the chance to obtain a certificate or complete the entire two years of coursework and receive their diploma. At the age of 20, graduates can then transition into the BLET program well prepared and ready for success.
“These two programs really compliment and piggyback off one another,” says BLET Director Lieutenant Obbie Blanton. “To help prepare our students, our new two-year criminal justice curriculum will give them some experience and background in law enforcement, so that when they go into BLET, they have a deeper understanding of what’s expected of them.”
As the majority of law enforcement agencies now require their officers to have completed some form of higher education, the new CJ Technology program offers the county’s law enforcement officers who haven’t yet acquired their associate degree a means to do so. In order to meet the needs of these students, the college offers the majority of its criminal justice courses online, and BLET courses run exclusively on weeknights and weekends, thus allowing students who wish to change careers the ability to work full time and still complete their classes.
“It’s the mission of Brunswick County Community College to meet the needs of our community, and our community has said there’s a need,” says Director of Public Relations and Marketing London Schmidt. “The Brunswick Sheriff’s Office has vacancies, and they need qualified, trained individuals who might currently be working during the day because they’re supporting a family. So by offering these online, evening and hybrid classes, we’re working collaboratively to provide highly skilled individuals to fill those roles, which makes us a safer community.”
When Blanton took over the BLET program in the beginning of 2018, he and Assistant Director James D. Smith made it their goal to employ more law enforcement officers from the Brunswick County area as instructors. As experts in their field, many current instructors came through the program themselves, and they have now returned to the college with experience gained from working in the community. These officers are able to share real-life knowledge about topics ranging from the use of firearms to techniques of traffic law enforcement, hazardous materials, juvenile law, drivers training and patrol techniques.
“What they teach is what they specialize in, so in that way they give us the intel of what they’re expecting their new officers to learn and know,” says CJ Technology Program Director Lisa Fields. “So what we’re able to offer our students is that personal touch and real life experience side of this.”
Clarissa Reece went through the BLET program 10 years ago and has since returned as an instructor. She appreciates how well her instructors prepared her for her career in law enforcement, and she now enjoys the opportunity do the same by inspiring new recruits.
“Because I was working full time during the day, the night program allowed me to further my future and my career,” Reese says. “My instructors, all current or prior law enforcement officers, were very knowledgeable in their fields and passionate about their work.”
Blanton believes that having a good working relationship with local law enforcement agencies is critical to the success of the BLET and CJ Technology programs. In the fall of 2018 the college partnered with Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office to provide campus security. The BLET program advisory board is also currently made up exclusively of local law enforcement officers.
“Our programs really do feed to and feed off of local law enforcement agency needs,” Fields says. “In this aspect we’re bridging our community to our college to our workforce.”
Thanks to the state’s Career and College Promise initiative, local high school students can enter the CJ Technology program and start earning college credits. They then have the option of receiving a certificate or completing the entire 68 hours to obtain their diploma. Classes on topics such as juvenile delinquencies, criminal law and substance abuse give students a taste of the different career possibilities available to them in the future.
“It’s up to each individual to find their niche, and then when they get out into the field decide if they want to go into law enforcement or corrections or maybe to law school. It’s a growing field and there are all sorts of different avenues,” Fields says.
Transitioning into the BLET program after completing the CJ Technology program makes a student more marketable to law enforcement agencies upon graduation. Having a two-year degree means a candidate is eligible for certification upon passing the state exam, and he or she can then apply for a sworn position with a local law enforcement agency. Students come from neighboring counties such as Pender, Columbus, Bladen and New Hanover, and they are able to complete the program in just less than eight months. Upon graduation, the majority of candidates choose to stay and work right in Brunswick County.
“It benefits the community when someone who’s from here comes back to work here, because they know the area and are more familiar with the clientele they’ll come in contact with because of their history in this community,” Fields says.
At the end of each program, many top BLET graduates seek employment with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office. First Sergeant Chris Raynor says that his office continues to be pleased with the candidates who join their team from Brunswick Community College.
“The quality of the individuals who successfully complete this training has been so impressive that the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office routinely displays recruiting efforts in order to adopt the best certified officers from this program,” Raynor says.
Blanton and his team believe the new connection between BLET and the CJ Technology program means that Brunswick Community College now has more to offer students than ever before. Working together, the two programs will continue to increase the community’s overall safety by training qualified officers who are well prepared to serve and protect county residents.
“Our BLET and CJ Technology programs are both strong, the people here at Brunswick Community College are great, and all the support we’ve received has been amazing,” Blanton says. “We’re continuing to grow, and I don’t see where it’s going to end just yet.”
Photos by Megan Deitz