Law School Alumni in Law Enforcement Highlight the Importance of the J.D.
Students looking to learn how their law degree can be used for a career in law enforcement were treated to an engaging and informative panel on March 7 at the Law School.
Sponsored by the Office of Career & Professional Development, panelists included Krista Ashbery '06 of the New York Police Department Office of Collaborative Policing; Ken Rice '08, a New York Police Department detective; Adjunct Professor Rae Koshetz; and Tim Sini '05, Police Commissioner of Suffolk County. Deputy Director of Career & Professional Development Steven Gordon was the moderator.
Ashbery spoke about her work with the Office of Collaborative Policing, an eight-member team that includes attorneys, social workers, civilians, and police officers.
“By bringing together attorneys, attorneys who are also police officers, and police officers, you get a really rich perspective on how things actually work in the field,” she said. “People come to us with problems on some of the worst days of their lives, and we need to figure out ways to treat them the best that we can. You learn what it’s like to actually have to carry out something at that level, and really build something practical, as opposed to theoretical.”
Rice, a detective in the NYPD Legal Bureau, discussed the circuitous route he took to law enforcement, from spending time at the District Attorney’s Office to joining the Legal Bureau of the NYPD, before achieving his childhood dream of becoming a police officer. He was even able to briefly work with his father, who inspired him to join the force, before his retirement.
“The precinct chiefs want a lawyer on hand, someone who can say, ‘this is what you can do, this is what you cannot do,’” Rice said, in response to how his law degree informs his police work. “The J.D. helped me communicate with the Assistant District Attorney, and the ADA could also seek advice from me. This in turn helps develop trust with other police.”
Koshetz, who teaches the Law and Police Policy Seminar at the Law School, began her career as a court reporter, covering criminal trials in Jersey City. She left journalism behind for law school, and got a job working for Hon. John F. Keenan, federal judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, before transitioning to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, where she worked for nine years. While there she met Sterling Johnson ’66, who recommended her to Benjamin Ward ’65, then New York City Police Commissioner.
Koshetz worked for eight police commissioners over 14 years. Every new commissioner meant staff turnover, but Koshetz endured. She attributed this to her approach to the job.
“To my amazement, I wasn’t thrown out, but now I understand why,” Koshetz said. “I was not political. I ensured that our command was free of outside influence -- when people would call me trying to influence a case, I would say, ‘look, I’m sorry, but this case will be decided according to the facts and the law.’”
Koshetz has gone into private practice. She said a friend joked that she had joined “the dark side.” Koshetz responded, “There is no dark side or light side. If you’re a lawyer, there’s the right side, and that’s side with the facts and the law.”
Sini discussed his service as overseer of one of the largest police agencies in the nation, as well as how he wound up with the job as the youngest commissioner in Suffolk County history.
Sini oversees about 2,500 police officers and 1,000 civilian employees. His jurisdiction covers more than 900 square miles and has a $700 million annual budget. Previously, Sini had been working as federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, but wanted to move closer to home in Suffolk County. His position as assistant deputy county executive for public safety paved the way to deputy police commissioner, then full commissioner a few months later when a scandal resulted in imprisonment of his predecessor.
Becoming police commissioner may not have been part of Sini’s original plan, but falling back on his prosecutorial experience has been extremely helpful.
“Going into law school, I knew I wanted to do some kind of public interest/public service work, I just wasn’t sure what that would be,” Sini said. “I did every single clinic I could do – criminal defense, workers’ rights. I interned for a judge, and at some point in law school it became clear to me that I wanted to be a prosecutor. I loved the idea that your job is to serve justice, not to convict. I loved the idea that it was an area where you could essentially be in court daily if not weekly, and just a really cool intersection of real-life issues, issues that really affect people’s lives, and the law. And it’s really one of the few jobs where you get to practice criminal procedure law and constitutional law every day.”