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Powers called a pit bull with lipstick

March 20, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

Over the past 27 years, Virginia Powers has been called a lot of names, but the investigator, former police officer and former court commissioner will only lay claim to one: "A pit bull with lipstick."

"I don't stop until I get the job done," Powers said and smiled.

Powers, 46, is one of two investigators with the Washington County Office of the State's Attorney. She and investigator Bill Graham interview witnesses for prosecutors who are preparing for trials.

"We try to prevent surprises," she said.

It's a job Powers has held for more than 10 years and hopes to hold for at least 10 more, she said.

"This has been my entire life. I don't know that I could do anything else," she said. "It's my job, and I enjoy doing it."

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Powers' career in criminal justice started in 1979 when she joined the Hagerstown Police Department as its second female officer. Powers, whose father was stationed with the Army in Germany, had moved with her family to Fort Ritchie after graduating from high school in Frankfurt.

Powers said two strong women - her mother and grandmother, both German natives - encouraged her to "stand up and fight" for what she believed in.

"A good many people say I get what I need when I want it," she said.

At 5 foot 4 inches tall and 112 pounds, Powers was not an imposing figure when she joined the police department.

She recalled, affectionately, a comment the late Officer Harry House made to her when she started there: "He said, 'Kiddo, for you, it's gonna be all about the brains. It's not gonna be about the brawn."

Powers used her wits.

She pushed her way through college while working at the police department, getting an associate degree from Hagerstown Junior College and a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Baltimore. She would work the midnight to 8 a.m. shift, go to class at 8:30 a.m. and stay until 4:30 p.m.

"I survived that part of my life on four hours of sleep," she said.

Powers liked police work, but in 1987, decided she wanted to do "something lower key" because she wanted to start a family. She took a job as a Washington County District Court Commissioner, the most hectic job she ever held, but it gave her the time to spend with her family, she said.

In her job as an investigator for the Office of the State's Attorney, Powers gets to be both tough and tender.

"I feel a great deal of empathy for victims and witnesses. I'm a woman and a mother," she said.

Powers is not afraid to sit on the floor and talk to a child victim using words they'll understand. She goes to witnesses' homes to speak with them, to make them more comfortable talking with her.

"The most rewarding aspect of this job is being able to make people feel comfortable about going through the court process," she said.

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