The Oklahoma Insurance Department spent more than $180,000 on high-tech shotguns, bulletproof vests and seven police-package vehicles that agency officials say were needed as part of its expanded focus on criminal insurance fraud.
But the purchases have raised eyebrows among some lawmakers who question why the agency's nine-member anti-fraud unit — which primarily investigates white-collar crimes — needs equipment typically used by police officers and SWAT teams.
“I don't think Oklahomans as a whole are going to relish the day when their neighborhood is full of official police-package insurance department police cars as they're executing an arrest on a guy who did a fraudulent insurance claim,” said Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, chairman of the House Government Modernization Committee and a long-time critic of what he perceives as excessive government spending.
“For the life of me, I never could come to grasp with why the Insurance Department couldn't take a local sheriff's deputy, or someone responsible to the local community, with them when they do these arrests,” he said.
According to Insurance Department records, the agency this year purchased five 2012 Dodge Chargers for $23,590 each and two 2013 Chevrolet Tahoes for $26,505 apiece, each outfitted with police packages that include stiffer suspensions and wiring for additional communications equipment.
The agency also purchased seven Remington pump-action shotguns for $699 each, along with seven mountable shotgun lights that cost $203 apiece and seven bulletproof vests that cost $625 each.
The expenditures were first reported by eCapitol, an online service that tracks bills for lobbyists, state agencies and private organizations.
“Is Al Capone back in town?” asked Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, referring to the legendary Chicago mobster. “Are we looking for stills in the woods? Come on, it's a joke.”
Insurance Commissioner John Doak defended the purchases, citing a case in Louisiana last year in which two fraud investigators were shot and killed during what should have been a routine trip to collect records from a suspended insurance agent who later shot himself.
“We serve a lot of warrants, and people are very, very distressed when a fraud investigator shows up at their door,” Doak said. “I don't want anyone at my office shot and killed because they weren't adequately trained.