Ferris State Alumni Association
420 Oak Street, Big Rapids
It's not unusual to see family photographs on someone's desk. Mark Alley (E'85) has them, too. The frame holding a photograph of his wife Cassie, also a Ferris graduate (E'82), is decorated with miniature handcuffs, holstered gun, walkie-talkie, nightstick and clip of bullets. A Criminal Justice graduate, Alley is chief of police for Lansing, Michigan-one of the youngest police chiefs in the nation for a city that size.
It takes dedication to rise through the ranks so quickly, and Alley is indeed dedicated. He even got married on the job. During dinner break. In uniform.
"I met Cassie through Ferris professor Dr. Al Larson," Alley recalls. " I was working as a patrol officer, and she was an undercover agent. Dr. Larson asked me to look up his former student and say hello for him. The rest, as they say, is history."
Cassie no longer works narcotics and now patrols days. Although she maintains there are many more advantages than disadvantages to their dual careers in law enforcement, the move to days helps with caring for their children-Alys, 11, and Charles, 7.
Alley became chief of police just last year, and while he is young for the position, it didn't happen overnight. After interning with the Flint Police Department, Alley took a job in Lansing. He spent five years as patrol officer with the Lansing Police Department, then three years each as sergeant, lieutenant and captain. Alley's boyish looks belie his rank. After his promotion the local paper asked for a photo of the new chief. Conveniently, he had just had a studio portrait done the week before, and he sent over a copy.
The paper called back to clarify-they wanted a recent photo.
Alley's corner office overlooks the state capitol and the George W. Romney State Office Building-he can point out which entrance the governor typically uses and where the security camera is hidden. His clean, orderly workspace lends few clues to how busy a typical day gets. An 8 a.m. meeting with the Lansing Area Safety Council Board of Directors ("In just six months you can be put on a lot of boards!"), and afterwards a conference with the parents of a hit-and-run victim. At noon, it's a speech for a Lions Club luncheon. In the afternoon comes an interview, and two different meetings about grant proposals. The day finishes with an evening stint as penalty timekeeper for a broomball hockey game between Lansing attorneys and judges. Not to mention 50 e-mails, half a dozen voice-mail messages, union contract negotiations for the 911 center and closing on a new house.
Even with a heavy workload, Alley has initiated innovative new programs at the LPD. One of the first was a violent toy exchange. Rubber swords, plastic guns, action figures and CDs with explicit lyrics were turned into a sculpture in the lobby of the municipal building. A sign next to the sculpture explains its purpose.
"It is our intent," writes Alley, "to use this as a vehicle to get our community and others to begin discussing and perhaps taking action in reducing the level of violence our children are exposed to."
The chief is especially excited about his HOPE (Helping Other People Excel) initiative. HOPE looks to provide two-year scholarships at Lansing Community College for simply graduating from high school. The program is a partnership between LPD, LCC, Lansing School District and Michigan State University.
"We're going to provide mentors for at-risk kids through MSU, city of Lansing employees and others who want to help. We plan to bring them to LCC for pizza parties, guest speakers and other events to get them acclimated to the college atmosphere. Educated kids are much less likely to end up in jail."
Alley hopes to have the first 500 7th graders enrolled in the program this fall.
Like many undergraduates, Alley wasn't sure what he would end up doing with his life. "At first I had no inclination to become a police officer. I come from a family of teachers. But then I took Criminal Justice 110 my freshman year and just got hooked on it."
Many of the skills the Chief uses day in day out on the job came from his study at Ferris. "A forensic science class I took that was taught by a chemistry professor was absolutely outstanding. It gave me my foundation for crime-scene work. In Law and Procedure, I had the elements of different crimes really drilled into me. And in a constitutional law class, Dr. Paul Spagnolo wove the whole history of Supreme Court decisions to help students under-stand why we have things like the Miranda ruling, which established the necessity of readings suspects their rights."
That picture frame on his desk also holds a photo taken with Lansing Mayor David Hollister and the first group of officers to be promoted under his tenure. It's fitting that there are pictures of both his home and work life in the same frame. Alley has blended these in a way that seems increasingly difficult. When Alley dons his uniform he's not flaunting the symbols of power-he's just letting the world know who he is.