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My job as a civil investigator for a metropolitan City Attorney’s Office means seeing the best and worst of citizens and government employees. Happily, it often involves rooting out abuse and fraud.

I’ve done everything from helped inspect homes owned by hoarder-clutters overflowing with old computer parts, to raiding massage parlors in an operation to crack down on human trafficking, to investigating marijuana dispensaries for code violations. In my three years in government, I’ve worked on three massive cases: a 40,000 gallon diesel spill, a whistleblower fraud complaint that led to several resignations, and a fatal tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo. My teammates and I are low-profile and unsung, but together we help save millions of dollars for the taxpayer each year.

I also serve on an interdisciplinary team of inspectors who enforce city safety codes. I remember one big fire code case, made when I spotted a resident in party photos posted on MySpace. The cardboard sign over her head, “Wine, Beer,” hadn’t been in the warehouse that morning and it was hard to pick out architectural details from these club scene photos. At least 200 people had to be jammed into the space, dressed up for the night in black stockings, short skirts and skinny neckties. In one photo, two Gen-X girls the image of skinny Cindy Laupers, posed with hand to hip on a landing where I could recognize the paint spattered banister.

That morning, I’d poked behind a curtain in the kitchen and snapped pictures of three armless mannequins, bottles of industrial cleansers and two stacks of safety cones.

Later, I would remember that Burning Man, that counter-culture art event in the dusty Nevada desert, was still going on and would find these six had rushed back with enough gear to fill up the space in time to turn a party pad into a passable art studio for the inspection. They probably shouldn’t have wrote about that on the Web later that afternoon.

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