FDU Magazine Online, Winter/Spring 2005
   
Alumni Profile
PHOTO: Lori Hennon-Bell, MAS’02 (T)

A Force to Be Reckoned With

She’s the highest-ranking female officer in the 83-year history of the New Jersey State Police (NJSP). And she is also the mother of two small children and the wife of an NJSP captain whom she outranks since her recent promotion to lieutenant-colonel.

Ask Lori Hennon-Bell, MAS’02 (T), how she feels about her high-visibility role as one of the most powerful women in the ranks of America’s state police, and the chief of the NJSP’s new Homeland Security Branch will surprise you by laughing.

“Hey, I’m a recruiter at heart,” quips the 43-year-old Hennon-Bell, who daily commands 550 troopers in the agency’s anti-terrorism unit. “If my status as a female lieutenant-colonel helps recruit women, I’m all for it!

 

“If my status
as a female lieutenant-colonel helps recruit women, I’m all for it! ”

“Really, I do think the media attention that we often get on this issue is sending an important message, which says clearly: ‘The culture of the New Jersey State Police is changing — and that change is creating new opportunities in law enforcement for women.’”

According to Hennon-Bell, who was tapped last February by Col. Joseph (“Rick”) Fuentes, NJSP superintendent, to organize and then direct the new Homeland Security Branch, the message couldn’t come at a better time.

“Opening our ranks up to females isn’t just a gender issue — it’s also a professionalism issue,” she said, while pointing to recent data showing that only six percent of the nation’s state troopers are women. “I know we’ve gotten better, by emphasizing diversity at every level of this organization.”

Described by former superintendent, Col. Carson Dunbar, Jr., as “a real professional,” Hennon-Bell, a 24-year NJSP veteran was an obvious choice to run the high-pressure anti-terrorism unit.

Hennon-Bell had an outstanding track record as a deputy superintendent-administrator. According to Fuentes, she won kudos for managing the agency’s 2,600 troopers (104 are women) and its $300-million yearly budget with great efficiency. “There was no doubt that Lori had terrific administrative skills,” he says, “or that she was the perfect person to pull the new branch together and make it work.”

For Hennon-Bell, the promotion was a victory over the “gender bias” she sometimes encountered during her early years on the force. Asked where she found the endurance required for the long and sometimes lonely climb from the State Police Academy to chief of the new branch, this commander gives much of the credit to her upbringing. “I guess you could say I’ve got police work in my gene pool,” she notes, recalling that her great-grandfather, grandfather and brother were all policemen in the Princeton, N.J., area.

Hennon-Bell also credits FDU’s master’s program in administrative science with giving her “a big boost.” During two years of study in an MAS degree program offered at the NJSP Division Headquarters in West Trenton, N.J., — one of more than 50 off-campus locations offering the program — Hennon-Bell “learned a lot about administration and public finance, both of which help in this new assignment.”

“The key is to figure out ways to unify our command and combine our resources for maximum efficiency.”

So how is she approaching the task of protecting her state from terrorist assaults? “The key is to figure out ways to unify our command and combine our resources for maximum efficiency,” she explains. “As police officers, we’re very good at reacting to a crisis, whatever form it may take. But after 9/11, we know we have to be proactive: we have to find ways to combine our intelligence operations and the activities of all our other units in order to stop attacks before they happen.”

It won’t be easy, she says. Thankfully, she knows she can rely on “a great deal of loving support” at home, where her husband — veteran NJSP Captain Thomas Bell — and her two small children often help recharge her batteries for the next grueling day on the job.

Still, what about the difference in their ranks? Doesn’t it complicate matters just a tad at the dinner table, when the colonel and the captain have to decide who’s going to wash the dishes that night?

“Oh, not at all,” she says with a light-hearted chuckle. “Fortunately, we’ve always been able to draw the line between work and home. You ask the kids who the general is, and they’ll tell you: ‘It’s Daddy!’ I’m lucky in that Tom is a very strong personality, with a mind of his own.”

She’s also quite fortunate, she says, to be the mother of a very independent-minded daughter — seven-year-old Harlyn — who’s already announced that she “wants to be a state trooper when she grows up!”

 

 

T.N.

   

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