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Alben to Make Education a Priority at Mass. State Police

Timothy Alben can count 29 years experience working in nearly every division of the Massachusetts State Police, but he cites his educational background as equally valuable in earning him the top job at the 147-year-old agency.

Alben, a 2007 master’s degree graduate at the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS), was named the new superintendent of the department on July 13.

In taking the helm of the nation’s oldest state police force, Alben said he would emphasize the importance of education to the 2,300-member department, noting that during the job interview process for the position, he stressed to Gov. Deval Patrick’s staff that his educational pursuits had complemented his operational experience. The Massachusetts State Police sponsored his attendance at the FBI National Academy, the Naval Postgraduate School and in two executive development seminars at Harvard University.

"I learned the x’s and o’s of police work through 29 years of operations, but I learned research, critical thinking and writing at all of these great institutions," Alben said. "I want to expand this practice and increase our investment in these talented individuals. An investment in the education and leadership development of our mid level supervisors and managers remains a top priority with me."

While noting there is no replacement for operational experience in law enforcement, the task of the superintendent is more focused on strategy and policy. Skills perfected at CHDS will be fundamental to the policy development the job requires.

"The CHDS made me a better thinker, a better writer and a far more effective decision maker than I ever would have been at this stage of my career," Alben noted. "My responsibility as the chief executive of this organization is to communicate and develop a strategic vision and to focus on our public safety mission. CHDS developed my ability to challenge the conventional wisdom; to think more creatively and critically in solving problems; and, it forced me to raise the intellectual bar – raise the expectations I have of myself and those around me."

A top priority is developing a strategic plan aimed at meeting goals and objectives over the course of two, five and 10 years. Alben noted that a copy of "Blue Ocean Strategy" from his CHDS days remains on his desk and will figure prominently into planning and project management.

Another applicable concept from CHDS is collaboration. In class students worked collectively on almost every classroom project and Alben envisions the same kind of approach with his command staff in addressing organizational issues and complex challenges, he said.

Collaboration will be crucial as Alben steers the State Police and as the department’s partners with other agencies to address homeland security.

Two events in 2011 underlined the importance of collaboration as a June tornado swept through Western Massachusetts and an atypical Halloween snowstorm strained law enforcement across the state. Forming relationships in advance of catastrophic events is critical to ensuring services are available.

"Having pre-existing and strong relationships between state and local jurisdictions and being able to quickly integrate them to provide critical security services in a disaster is important to success," Alben said. "I think there is an inherent sense of competition between the various levels of government that’s not always healthy. The Homeland Security Grant process itself, though providing critical equipment and training, also contributed to this competitive atmosphere between state government entities and locals."

Among the top goals for the State Police is expanding the State Police Crime Laboratory, which provides forensic services for all state and local law enforcement in Massachusetts. Ensuring the lab has the proper resources and personnel to carry out that mission is critical.

"We’re looking to expand our facility in Maynard (Mass.) so that we can centralize some of the services that have been located across the state," Alben said. "In a similar vein, the crime lab maintains the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) which categorizes and inventories the DNA profiles of convicted felons in Massachusetts. We’re working diligently to erase backlogs in collections, which are a national problem, to assist with solving future crimes."

A continuing priority is acquiring the agency’s next records management system that will replace the existing system. The department retained a consultant who has an established expertise in configuring records management systems for large agencies such as the Massachusetts State Police.

On the homeland security front, the commonwealth has an array of potential targets to protect, whether it is safeguarding Boston’s historic harbor or its busy Logan International Airport, which means interacting with divergent agencies and disciplines. Because of the area’s sea and air infrastructure along with its history of battling organized crime and gang problems that plague many urban areas, it behooves the State Police to work with agencies ranging from the Transportation Security Administration to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

As with the rest of the country, an emerging threat is cybercrime and cyber-terrorism, Alben noted. The Massachusetts State Police provides the investigative resources to 11 District Attorney’s Offices across the state. Each unit is now required to have computer crime investigators and computer forensic analysts.

Remaining challenges are afoot outside the day-to-day work. The State Police is grappling with dwindling homeland security grant funding and will need to find ways to maintain the equipment and training those monies purchased.

Perhaps equally as challenging is keeping a sometimes weary public focused on the importance of homeland security. Alben cited former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley who described air security in his book "Permanent Emergency" as an "Easter egg hunt."

"Eleven years removed from 9/11, my sense is that the public’s attention and patience may have waned," Alben observed. "We’re going to have to build upon the relationships fostered through community policing to maintain credibility not only in the area of crime suppression but also to communicate information on emerging threats."