Two police officers turn sights to the legal area

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by Paul Janczewski
Legal News

What are the chances two police officers from two separate Genesee County departments would both decide to leave the profession and seek new opportunities in a law career?

And what would the odds be that those two men would attend the same law school, learn of each other through a mutual friend, and become comrades in arms as they join forces in navigating the rigors while obtaining law degrees?

For Brian Ogle and Richard D. Hetherington, those chances were very good. And the odds that they will become excellent attorneys after successful careers in law enforcement is even better.

“Everything you do in life is a learning experience,” Hetherington said. “Everything adds to your character and makes you what you are. So you either take something from it, or it’s a waste of time.”

Ogle, like many others, said he got into police work “to help people.” He had the power and resources “to do good…catch bad guys and take them off the street.” But life is a progression, he said, “and as life progress, it changes your plans.”

Their paths to this point have some similarities, and some differences, but the dominoes fell for each in a unique pattern that brought them together.

Hetherington, 46, grew up in the Flint area went to the University of Michigan-Flint. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. “I contemplated majoring in English, but I couldn’t figure out what I’d do with an English degree,” he said. He also thought about taking pre-law classes.
“But they had a brand new program for criminal justice, and that sounded intriguing, so I looked into it.”

While at U-M-Flint, Hetherington worked for the college’s public safety office and in public safety for General Motors Institute. Both of those positions involved policing the campus and surrounding neighborhoods.

“It was a stepping stone into law enforcement,” he said.

Hetherington graduated in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. While growing up, becoming a cop was not something he aspired to, although he always had respect for the men in blue.

But Hetherington attended the police academy, and was hired by the Flint Police Department in 1989. It fit him like a glove. He started as a patrolman, and did stints in the gang squad and undercover narcotics, and was eventually promoted to sergeant in 1998, supervising the undercover drug team, and later joined the detective bureau.

Hetherington said he was always active with union matters, so when an opportunity arose in 2000, he became president of the Flint Police Sergeants Association.

But when the economic downturn hit Flint, layoffs were commonplace and the department became very busy for the smaller number of officers.
Hetherington reexamined his future. He thought about getting a master’s degree in teaching, but his heart wasn’t in it. He had known a few attorneys over the years, and, looking for a new challenge in his life, looked into law school. He took the LSAT entrance exam, passed and started at Cooley Law School in Lansing in 2007.

Ogle, 39, also from Flint, knew from an early age he wanted a career in law enforcement. “It’s just something I always knew that’s what I was going to do,“ he said.

The gradual progression that drew him toward police work started with the community foot patrols Flint had in place, and some interaction with officers. He went to Eastern Michigan University and graduated in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He applied to departments across the country, but decided to stay put with a girlfriend, who he eventually married, and look for a job locally.

Police departments were already feeling an economic pinch. Once, departments paid for people to go through the police academy, but Ogle could not find any of those. So he decided to pay his own way through the Oakland Police Academy “so I would be a little more marketable.”
Ogle said he really wanted to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but instead got a job with the Grand Blanc Township Police Department in 1995 as a patrolman, learning the ropes as he went along. In 1997, Ogle joined the Genesee Township Police Department part-time, which exposed him to different types of calls, people, and neighborhoods.

In 1997, he was hired full-time by the Mundy Township Police Department.

While Ogle still works for the department, he saw the winds of change hitting police work nationwide due to the economy, which translated into fewer or lost benefits, fewer cops and frozen wages.

“It’s not as secure of a job as it used to be, not as financially stable, or as thriving as it used to be,” Ogle said. “It seems to be going in reverse now.”

While the Mundy Township Police Department was not suffering as bad as some others, he saw a trend that did not bode well for these public servants. So Ogle decided to make a change.

While in college, Ogle also thought about a career in law, “but my gravitation toward police work overrode that.” Now, it again sparked an interest. Ogle saw through the years how much one of his close friends growing up enjoyed law. “It motivated me to move forward in my life, especially since police careers seem to be somewhat stagnant,” Ogle said.

He only applied to one law school – Cooley – because it offers so much for people who are working and have children, is close, and is geared to helping students not only learn law from the books, but by practical life examples.

Through Ogle’s attorney friend, he learned of Hetherington.

“We had met a few times in police work,” Hetherington said of Ogle. Though never close friends, they had acquired knowledge of each other working narcotics. The two cops-turned-law-students had lunch to talk about their new adventures.

When Hetherington was unable to get some of the classes he needed, he switched to Auburn Hills, and the two have taken most of their classes together and become study partners, bouncing ideas and thoughts back and forth, preparing for exams together, and ultimately, taking the bar exam together. The arrangement has helped both.

“It’s beneficial, as friends and former cops,” Hetherington said. “We have a lot of the same ideals and mindsets. I knew he was experienced in a lot of the same things that I was, the same life experiences, and here we are going through the same classes.”

“We got to know each other better, and helped each other out,” Ogle said. “And it’s very beneficial, because I’ve got someone who’s been in the same profession, had the same experiences, with similar backgrounds, the same type of thinking, and similar stages in life. It’s made it a lot easier.”

While Ogle has kept his police job for now, Hetherington has been working as a paralegal for his and Ogle’s mutual friend’s law firm,
handling research, case preparation, and other legal duties.

Both are pretty open to what branch of the law they pursue. Those in law enforcement refer to defense attorneys as joining “the dark side.” Both Hetherington and Ogle said they had to switch gears, from thinking like cops to thinking like attorneys, and it took some adjustment. But both believe in doing the job the right way in affording people due process of law. They both did that as cops, and they’ll both do it as lawyers.

“That’s the way our system is designed, and we have a wonderful criminal justice system,” Ogle said. “And we have to have faith in it.”