The Other Side of Law Enforcement

The Other Side of Law Enforcement

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Maha Neouchy
May 01, 2013

On Monday, April 29th, the Law and Criminal Justice (LCJ) academic internship program hosted panelists from a number of law enforcement backgrounds, which included a professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Georgetown University's School of Medicine, a forensic DNA Examiner for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and a consultant on the television show, "Criminal Minds." The message that the panel left with each intern is that they have a number of different law and criminal justice professions at their disposal, even if some are more untraditional than others.


The event was held at TWC's Residential Academic Facility at NoMa and hosted six panelists who provided insight into what they currently work on and delved into daily responsibilities of previous professions they have held.


The first panelist was Dr. Avram Mack, who is currently a professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Georgetown University's School of Medicine, an attending psychiatrist at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital and a consultant at Park Dietz & Associates. He spoke about contributing his expertise in the field of forensic psychology in courts and his work collaborating with attorneys, agencies and other clinicians. In addition, he reviews cases involving sexual abuse, suicide, crime and violence.


James T. Clemente thrilled everyone in the room after mentioning his work as a consultant on the popular TV show, "Criminal Minds." He provides expert consulting for the show because of his previous work in the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) with the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC). The Unit provides behavioral support during all FBI crisis incidents. Clemente was a prosecutor then moved on to work at the FBI. Although he retired in November 2009 from the BAU, he now writes and consults for the show providing informal advice on profiling and actually serves as inspiration for two characters on the show. He is also in the process of developing a new show on serial killers that will air this fall.


The third panelist, Rhonda L. Craig, is currently a Supervisory Forensic DNA Examiner for the FBI in Washington, D.C. At this point in her career, she has reviewed nearly 1,300 cases for the FBI Laboratory, ranging from counterterrorism and intelligence to violent criminal cases. She shared that her favorite part of the position is testifying and teaching juries about DNA. For Craig, "meeting the families of victims is very powerful."


During her introduction, Jelahn Stewart, the fourth panelist, mentioned that she had once been in the same seat as many of the LCJ interns who were attending the programming event. She had come to D.C. as an intern herself and never expected that she would one day work in the United States Attorney's Office. Currently, she is the Chief of Victim Witness Assistance Unit, where she litigates issues involving victims of crime and provides legal guidance to prosecutors on victims' rights laws as well as oversees the victim advocates who assist victims of crime in the District.


The fifth panelist, Paola Contreras, currently works in the Court Services & Offender (CSO) Supervision Agency. While earning her Bachelor's Degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland in 2010, an advisor recommended that Contreras test out a social work position in the LCJ field. With that recommendation, she began taking courses in the mental health program at Montgomery College and received an internship with the pre-release center where she planned and escorted offenders on recreational trips like bowling and mini golf. Contreras shared that while she was surprised to be taking former offenders on these trips, "the whole point was so they could gain an understanding of different things they could do for fun. Many never realized that they had these options." It was the same case for women. Female offenders usually saw themselves in a negative light, so Contreras would help facilitate "makeovers and activities that helped these women explore and overcome obstacles they dealt with in their past." After graduating, she received a job with the Pre-release and Re-entry Services Division full-time as a Resident Supervisor. Contreras shared that it "takes a unique person to help an offender, but it's important to help people who commit these crimes to start seeing themselves as more than just criminals." That's why she became a community service officer and now works with both offenders and victims.


The last panelist, Jennifer Runkle, works in the toxicology unit for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in D.C. She is responsible for running the breath alcohol program and explained her work as one "small piece to a really big puzzle." After graduating from New Mexico State University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and double minors in both Biochemistry and Forensic Science, Runkle started working for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Chemistry and Drug Metabolism before eventually moving to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System in Rockville, Maryland. She spent almost five years with them before moving to her current position at the OCME, where she "works to develop and maintain processes and procedures for the laboratory that helps maintain the American Board of Toxicology Laboratory Accreditation." She ended her explanation with the reason she loves forensic toxicology: "it's dynamic and constantly changing."


LadyStacie Rimes-Boyd, LCJ Program Advisor Moderates a Question and Answer Session with the Panel


Moderator Rimes-Boyd: How has your perception of people changed as a consequence of your work? Is it hard to maintain close relationships with people?


Mack: It has been said that "bad men do what good men dream." We all have things we wish we could do, but we don't all go out and do so. Last summer, I conducted an evaluation on behalf of the prosecution in a case. The person on trial had taken some mushrooms and cut out his friend's heart and tongue. There were ways to demonstrate that the victim was still alive when he was having his tongue cut off. A defense expert stated that the defendant had developed schizophrenia when he was high on mushrooms. The truth was that he was a bully, a horrible member of the community and acted on it. Sometimes we make it seem like there is more mystery as to why a person acts poorly. Some act on bad wishes while others do not.


Clemente: Yes, it has changed and it is hard to make those connections. But, what is also interesting is that now friends ask me to profile them. I don’t like to do so and try not to do so.  On one occasion when I was pushed to do so, I did but it wasn’t a flattering analysis.  Even though I told this person my observation of them, it doesn’t mean that I think they will act upon it.  You can’t arrest someone for their thoughts, just for the actions they engage in.  Yes of course, in my line of work, your life does change to a certain degree.


Craig: I've definitely become more jaded and cynical. My field of work has made me more cautious and more secretive than I used to be. I'm always evaluating people and things that can happen. I look back on my college years and wonder how I made it, because when you are young, you just do things.  Yes, I’m more cautious now.


Stewart: Once you know something you can't "un-know" it. I actually only used to prosecute child porn cases. I read the details of what happened to those children and saw the videos. I'm cautious, especially since I have a 7-year old. But prosecuting those cases also shows me how resilient people can be. Seeing victims who have overcome the worst cases in life and then getting through it and moving forward is inspirational.


Contreras: You don't realize that crime doesn’t have a face. In college, I had gotten set up on a blind date, which incidentally didn’t go well.  Fast forward and a few years ago I saw the same man at the pre-release center.  Not only am I more cautious but with my husband being a U.S. Marshal, we both are very aware and run through scenarios and possibilities before we do anything.  We always think one step ahead. Making decisions together is a process.


Moderator Rimes-Boyd: What kind of misconceptions do people have about the fields that you are in and what would you like to dispel?


Runkle: It's not CSI. We're all one small piece of a larger puzzle.


Stewart: I don't want to win and I don't want to win at all costs. I want justice. The prosecution doesn’t want to just throw innocent people in jail.


Clemente: As a prosecutor, you have more power over what happens. What people don't know is that an eyewitness testimony is the most unreliable evidence that enters a court but is most relied upon by juries. There are also a lot of myths about the FBI and who works there, but there are very diverse people that work in the Bureau.


Moderator Rimes-Boyd: What is the best piece of advice you have to offer?


Mack: If you're going to become a forensic psychiatrist, you need to maintain your identity.


Clemente: The model of the FBI is fidelity, bravery and integrity. If you don't have integrity, everything else will fall apart.


Craig: A lot of variety in the field, but find the one you love the most. If you love your job then you will last and be able to handle what comes your way.


Stewart: Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be shy about reaching out. Talk to people and tell them what you are interested in. Ask for tips and advice for your career. People want to help.


Contreras: As far as academic advice, internships are so important. It's about more than just the degree today, employers want to see how you do in the field. Take care of your record and be mindful of your decisions, especially with social media.


Runkle: If you're interested in a lab field, get in a lab. We want young people who really want to be there. You want to give yourself the opportunity to grow. Also, as was mentioned, be mindful of your record. If the defense can discredit you, you're useless in the field.


Student Questions


Mark Ode, a student at Westfield State University, noted that the panelists "work in a very exciting field with a lot of pressure." He wondered how each of them deal with all of the cases they receive. Stewart shared that it's "very difficult. You need to know how to turn it off." Clemente uses "humor, physical work and writing. Humor is great medicine in general. I also enjoy restoring old homes to their original condition. And putting horrendous things you see down on paper is cathartic."


Maria Garcia, a student from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, asked about any advice the panelists may have about entering LCJ fields that aren't really advertised. Runkle shared that the spring interns shouldn't be afraid of "cold calling. The importance of having someone on the other side fighting for you is critical." Contreras recommended "volunteering even if you don't get paid. Employers like to see that and networking helps open doors."


As a huge "Criminal Minds" fan, Annemarie Ernst, a student at the University of Florida, was intrigued to find out if the show was an accurate depiction of profiling. Clemente shared that the show is "semi-accurate." While no one actually flies around in a director's jet, the profiling that is conducted "is based on actual cases, but usually a blend of two or more." The show is also a blend of "behavioral psychology and forensics." Clemente then recommended the book, Never Suck a Dead Man's Hand, which he found to be an accurate depiction of what it takes to obtain a career in profiling, what it's like to profile for a living and the results.


The panel was fascinating, offering six different perspectives of a field that is constantly changing with new advances and technology. TWC would like to thank all the wonderful panelists for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend!


[View photos of the event on our Flickr channel]

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