What do district attorney’s offices do anyway?
Sure, they prosecute. But some members can make arrests, too.
There’s also a little-known, “small police department” with full law enforcement powers, said Mark Foster, the new chief investigator for the Napa County District Attorney’s Office investigations bureau.
The 14-member investigations bureau — which includes two investigative technicians who are not sworn officers — works behind the scenes. They rarely make arrests, and they don’t dress in uniform or respond to the scene of 911 calls.
They handle a variety of cases, from fraud to human trafficking to officer-involved shootings, and often re-interview witnesses or victims who have previously been contacted during a law enforcement investigation. They’re part of the Napa Special Investigations Bureau, which is focused on drug and human trafficking, and the county’s Major Crimes Task Force, which assembles when serious crimes such as homicide are committed.
Foster, who joined the team in March, came to the DA’s Office after 28 years with the Napa County Sheriff’s Office. He said he enjoys serving the DA’s Office because it means working more closely with victims.
“That’s far more satisfying,” he said.
He promoted Leslie Pate in June and Anna Baber in July from investigators to supervising investigators. It’s the first time that women have occupied those roles, DA Allison Haley wrote in an email.
Pate has been with the DA’s Office for 11 years. Prior to that, she spent nearly nine years at the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office.
Pate said she wasn’t sure what she would think of coming to the DA’s Office from her previous role at the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office.
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“When you have a victim in any case ... telling you how much they appreciate you for all the work that you did for the case, it totally changed my thinking,” she said. “It made me want to be the best I could be.”
Baber has been with the DA’s Office for three years. She previously spent 14 years with the Berkeley Police Department.
Being able to see a case through to sentencing is amazing, she said.
“When you’re a detective, you hand off the case to the District Attorney’s Office,” Baber said. “You don’t always get an opportunity to be a part of the final piece.”
The investigations bureau keeps busy. Investigative technicians serve 3,000 subpoenas per year, Foster said. The team is assigned thousands of tasks by attorneys in the office each year.
And while much of their work revolves around investigating, the team also helps with coordinating travel for witnesses or exhibits, when cases go to trial, Pate said. They’ve provided witness protection services, helped get victims restitution, responded to area natural disasters, provided training to other agencies and present to local organizations.
It’s a hectic job, Foster said. Detectives are among the most tenacious of officers.
But Foster, Pate and Baber agree that the work is rewarding.
“Being a detective is the coolest thing,” Foster said.
“It sure is,” Baber replied.