Curiosity, problem solving, and putting evidence together to uncover the truth are what drive me as a detective.
I grew up in Connecticut, not too far from New York. My dad was a Navy veteran who worked for the State of Connecticut and my mom is a massage therapist. I can’t think of any one person that inspired me to go into law enforcement, however, I had a strong conviction of good versus bad. After high school, I moved to New York City to study criminology at Wagner College with the goal of pursuing a career in law enforcement.
Unexpectedly, I broke my elbow and couldn’t go directly into the field due to physical limitations, so I tended bar for several years on the Spirit of New York dinner cruise boat. This is where I met my husband, Carlyle, 30 years ago. Originally from St. Maarten in the Caribbean, Carlyle was a musician in the boat’s house band. He is currently touring and hopes live music will reopen in Singapore soon so he can collaborate with local musicians.
Unlike Carlyle and my 14-year-old daughter, Annika, I do not have a creative bone in my body, but I enjoyed sports. As a hobby, my family had three horses when I was growing up, so I was an avid equestrian when I was younger. I enjoyed three-day eventing, which included dressage, cross country, and show jumping.
Once I recovered from the elbow injury, I pursued my dream career in law enforcement. I started with the city of New York’s Office of Revenue and Investigation as a welfare fraud investigator for a few years before joining the Bronx District Attorney’s Office as a detective. Soon after, 9/11 happened and I was a first responder digging through rubble as part of what we called the “Bucket Brigade,” hence my terrible asthma. It was a day that all Americans, especially New Yorkers, will remember forever.
In terms of career progression, I always wanted to be a federal agent, so I applied to the U.S. Customs Service. While I was in the process of being hired, the U.S. Customs Service merged into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) as part of the formation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. My new position was based in LA, and I thought, “Well, I’m married to a musician so this could work!”
Our West Coast adventure began, and since my background was in money laundering and trade, I became an undercover agent working for a financial group. After that, I moved to headquarters and took a promotion at the Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center doing outreach, training, and global capacity building. That role brought me to Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, and parts of Europe on projects and sparked the desire to serve overseas. I made many good contacts and was promoted several times after returning to Los Angeles.
In HSI, we focus on preventing human and wildlife trafficking, as well as counter proliferation, narcotics, dark web cryptocurrency, money laundering, trade investigations, intellectual property rights, and more. Anyone in the general public could be a victim of a crime. For example, you could unknowingly buy a substandard power cord with a counterfeit label, or you could buy pharmaceuticals you believe are legitimate, but they could contain harmful ingredients.
A big piece of what we do overseas is liaising with our counterparts here in Singapore, like our partners in the Singapore Police Force, NParks, Customs, ICA, the Health and Science Authority, and the private sector. We collectively share information so we can combat criminal organizations in both countries. Last year, we were thankfully able to rescue four victims in the region.
One of the proudest cases I’ve ever worked on as a law enforcement officer was in the Bronx. I was assigned a homicide case and the only witness happened to be a homeless man named Gater. My job was to find him and when I did, I would visit him and bring him coffee often for a year and a half. He agreed to testify, and we convicted the criminal, and even reunited Gater with his long-lost daughter in Texas.
It’s been an adventure as a woman in this field and as I rose the ranks, I have grown alongside colleagues who encouraged me to take on new roles. Serving overseas in sunny Singapore will likely be my last assignment before retiring to LA. The best part is that I get to be the boss! I treat others the way I would like to be treated. While it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve embraced it, and done my best to make it a little better for everyone. We do what we do because we want to make our communities and our countries safer for all.
– Dawn Barriteau – Regional Attaché, Homeland Security Investigations