Lt. Tom Alexander recently earned a Ph.D. in criminology and criminal justice from the University of Maryland at College Park.
“Once I came here, I was told it was important to get as much education as you can to become a fully rounded police officer,” the 37-year veteran said.
Alexander, 56, said he uses his advanced education primarily to write grants for the police department. Since 2007, he has procured about $7 million in state and federal aid for his fellow officers, he said.
“I feel valuable being able to pull in this extra equipment,” he said. “Without it, our guys wouldn’t have the equipment that they need. They wouldn’t have the plethora of overtime funds — so either our budget would be in a lot of trouble or we’d be doing without a lot of things. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that.”
Capt. Mark Holtzman, acting Hagerstown police chief, said Alexander’s grant writing and professional knowledge have been a huge asset to the police department.
“Using his education, Tom is able to research some of the best practices and use them,” Holtzman said. “He has allowed us to build a solid reputation for our police department in the region.”
Alexander said he believes his Ph.D. helps him write better grant applications than competing police departments because he can include statistics and strategies developed through research.
“I’m not just saying we have a gun problem and need more money,” he said.
In addition to the grants that were secured to support existing officers, Alexander said he successfully acquired $625,000 from the federal government last summer to hire six military veterans. The money, he said, will fund those positions for about three years.
Alexander, who holds master’s degrees in criminal justice from Shippensburg University and psychology from Hood College in Frederick, Md., started studying for his Ph.D. on a part-time basis in 1996.
He said he had a trying moment when lightning struck his house in 2007. The resulting fire ruined 90 percent of his doctoral work.
With the help of his academic adviser, Charles Wellford, and his fellow students, Alexander said he was able to gather enough material for his dissertation.
“By God’s grace did I get by,” he said. “Without him I wouldn’t have made it ... I have lightning rods on my house now.”
Alexander said he has held a number of jobs in the police department, including patrolman and sector commander.
“My whole (career) has been here,” he said. “I’ve been in every department except for criminal investigations.”
In his spare time, Alexander teaches college-level criminal justice courses. He said he might continue to teach after he retires.
“It’s been a nice job,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve worked with more than anything.”