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Roberta Berkowitz: “The only easy day was yesterday.”

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When it comes to outfitting the women and men of law enforcement who put themselves in harm’s way every day, Roberta Berkowitz is somewhat like a superhero.

As president of the certified woman-owned business Prendo Forensics, LLC, she may not wear a cape, but she is a hero to many across the country for her excellent customer service and her ability to cross miles to find anything law enforcement officers might need at a crime scene or in their cars. 

And that literally means anything.

“It’s no secret the opioid epidemic is all over the country, so obviously drug testing kits are used every single day,” Roberta noted. “Aside from guns and ammunition, I pretty much can offer everything that’s used on a daily basis by law enforcement.”

Thorough Response
This runs the gamut, from the fentanyl drug protection kits that are necessary due to the prevalence of opioids to bulletproof vests for police dogs. Drugs have created an immediate need for more and better filtration products and protective gear for law enforcement, who risk overdose by inadvertently touching or breathing in the drugs when responding to calls.

She also provides customized kits for college students to use in their criminal justice and forensics classes and supplies a full line of forensic products to campus police. “There are numerous colleges nationwide that offer these programs; many I work with are out west. They do so much there in criminal justice. I have enjoyed the opportunity to mentor college students who are living their dreams and are studying criminal justice and forensic science. I have done mock crime scenes with students as part of their curriculum, designed hands-on student labs for their department’s use as well as spoken to business students about their goals, aspirations and career opportunities. Over the past ten years, more and more students have wanted to go into the industry,” she added. “You have to have a detailed, focused, organized, meticulous and brave psyche to do this line of work, similar to the characteristics required for running a business.”

Many of the products she provides, such as Blue Star Forensics’ latent blood detection tools, are seen on shows such as CSI, NCIS, The First 48 Hours and other forensics shows that have attracted many young people to this career. Other products include pepper sprays, a full line of medical supplies, and gym equipment for training academies, such as workout mats, weights, ellipticals and inversion tables. “I am able to find literally all anyone would need for undercover work, notebooks and pens that work in the rain, and K-9 products such as collars, muzzles, bowls and bite suits. For SWAT teams, I provide shields, helmets and more,” she continued. “For aviation, I provide mattresses for plane emergency air needs, visibility tape, tow bars to tow planes and much more, including targets for practice ranges and televisions for training rooms. You name it, I can get it!”

Quick Response
“I’m working with more women than ever before,” she noted. “In at least half of the departments that I work with, women are heading the forensic investigation units. Once the crime is established, that forensic unit comes in. Plus, in many departments, women have increasingly attained leadership roles previously held solely by men. This has been a very positive development over the years.”

The success of her business is due in large part to Roberta’s work ethic, which consistently finds her at her desk at home for hours on end. “A department needs multiple products from multiple manufacturers. What I specifically offer them is the ability to source all of those onto one order, shipped from around the country, yet billed to them in a concise, easily understood invoice. If that particular department did this on their own, they’d be spending literally hours finding and ordering individual items. I take a highly complicated, time-intensive process and consolidate it down to a phone call or email request from my customer, freeing them up to focus on their primary objectives as a law enforcement agency.”

How did this focused woman forge her way into this industry? Through gumption, perseverance and respect for all the individuals in this profession. That is how she runs her business, around the clock, for them. “I worked in the distribution business prior to starting my own company. Over time, I noticed that law enforcement departments were among the company’s customers and I helped carve out a dedicated sales team focused on selling directly into that market.  

“This industry drew a lot of interest thanks to the popularity of the CSI and SVU crime shows. I knew then that there was a market for a company to solely provide supplies, equipment and training to law enforcement and that I could provide an exceptional level of service. I had the confidence that if anyone could do it, I could.” Today, her customer base of over 1,000 clients is diversified to numerous areas in the law enforcement industry, including police departments, sheriff departments, college security, colleges and high school educators, state and local governments and correctional facilities.

Laying the Groundwork
Roberta graduated from SUNY Oswego in 1984 with a degree in communications and immediately accepted a position with the company she worked with for 25 years, ultimately becoming president of her division. “When I started Prendo Forensics in January 2010, my husband, Ned, had accepted a new job opportunity. Our daughter, Jessica, was in college, and our son, Mike, was finishing high school; the following year we would have two children in college,” she explained. “At the same time, we were building a house. Most people would crack under the pressure of starting from scratch as I did with so much going on, but to this day I still reflect on my father’s words to me. After much deliberation about taking this huge step, leaving my 25-year career and starting my own company, when my father said to me, ‘It’s not if, it’s when,’ that was all I had to hear and his words gave me the extra boost of confidence to know I could do it and be a huge success. My family’s support behind me 110 percent was the push that I needed.”

Her father, Marvin Grode, passed away this past spring and Roberta will carry his words with her forever. He and her mother, Miriam, were married 62 years; Roberta’s is a very close-knit family. Marvin owned a well-known restaurant supply business in Albany, H. Horton & Company, and Miriam worked for SUNY Albany for over 30 years.

Her husband, Ned, is in medical equipment sales. The two met in chemistry class and have been married 32 years. It was always important for them to live near her parents so their children could have a relationship with their grandparents. “I will say this decision to be close to them is one of the best we have ever made,” she smiled.

Roberta and Ned live on Lake George; she says it’s like living in a Norman Rockwell painting. She spends winters in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, which allows her to visit some of her customers while she is in that region. Her golden retriever, McKinley, is her sidekick throughout her day. 

Her day begins at 5:30 a.m. when she heads to her fitness center for her 6:45 a.m. workout. But first she stops for coffee at Stewart’s, which makes her day. She is also an avid tennis player and a part of a local tennis league. She has served on various boards and volunteer committees, including Schenectady County Community College’s Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, SPAC Action Council, Northeast Association of the Blind, Lake George Association, the Sembrich Museum and Smyrna Yacht Club.

She feels fortunate that both their children are still in the 518, noting that Jessica completed a master’s degree in public administration and is assistant director of admissions for a prominent college. Michael attended Albany Academy and went to Hobart College, where he played football; he currently works in the financial industry along with completing a master’s degree in finance.

Support for Women
Roberta emphatically recommends that women starting a business of their dreams align with organizations for other women in their industry. “I would not be as organized had I not gone to the New York State Small Business Development Center. Kate Baker was the business advisor who was assigned to me, and she helped me with my business plan and how to execute it,” she continued. “I bought a law enforcement directory, like a phone book, where every state lists their sheriffs and chiefs; I started making phone calls, then started getting business and customers I used as referrals. 

“The process of becoming a certified woman-owned business has very strict rules, regulations and guidelines. I totally understand why they are so strict and can appreciate it. It is a way of ensuring they are certifying actual woman-owned businesses correctly, accurately and thoroughly. However, it is well worth the long process; once you have that certification, it holds a lot of weight,” she continued. “You have to have self-confidence, have a mission, and you need to be able to go out there and be passionate about what you do. I don’t solve the crime; I sell the products to solve the crime. People in law enforcement are heroes and what they deal with and how they do it is so commendable.”

Roberta has been part of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives as a vendor and conference attendee as well as participating with other law enforcement associations and organizations statewide and nationwide. “I am constantly researching the emerging products to share with law enforcement to keep them safe and assist them in solving crimes,” she reiterated. Roberta’s work has garnered her a number of recognitions and awards, including being a 2018 Enterprising Women of the Year Champions honoree; 2009 Albany-Colonie, New York, Regional Chamber of Commerce Women of Excellence awardee; 2001 Business Review’s 40 Under Forty Business Achievement recipient; and a certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.

It is incredibly inspiring to see a woman with this level of dedication. She has found her niche, working with federal, state and local government agencies, police, sheriff departments, crime labs, private investigators and many colleges, universities and high schools. She truly goes to all lengths to get her clients what they need when they need it. Her client base works around the clock, and this means making herself available at all hours. 

“The Navy SEAL saying that I keep top-of-mind while moving toward achieving my personal and professional goals is, ‘The only easy day was yesterday,’” she affirmed. “I know I need to persevere each day, have new determination each day, feel confident each day and continue to push myself to be better each day. That truly means that the only easy day was yesterday.”