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They came before dawn, a squad of six armed officers, banging on the door of Maria Elena Hernandez, 62, a Los Angeles grandmother. When she identified herself, one of the officers twisted her arms behind her back and slapped her in handcuffs. Hernandez protested that the officers had the wrong person, but they duly carted her off to jail. The armed squad was not from the Los Angeles Police Department, the DEA or the Department of Homeland Security. As Marisa Gerber notes in the Los Angeles Times, the armed squad was from the California Department of Insurance (CDI) and they did have the wrong person. The CDI had confused Hernandez with an insurance fraud suspect of the same surname, but it took them more than two months to catch the error. By that time she owed $2,000 in bail bonds and $1470 for a medical exam initiated by jail staff. The CDI said they deeply regretted the error, but the Hernandez case might prompt Californians to take a hard look at this state agency.
The CDI claims it is the “largest consumer protection agency in the state,” with more than 1,300 employees and an annual budget of more than $260 million. The 1988 Proposition 103 “expanded CDI’s authority” and made Insurance Commissioner an elected office. The CDI’s fraud division dates from 1979 and in 1980 the division’s detectives became sworn peace officers conducting surveillance, undercover operations, and making arrests. The Fraud Division’s funding “is primarily secured from assessments on insurance policies issued in the State,” including every automobile policy. The CDI bills the division as “the premiere insurance fraud investigative agency in the nation with over 200 sworn officers operating in nine regional offices throughout the State of California.”
This “premier” agency sometimes busts the wrong person in an armed pre-dawn raid. The CDI also confirms that bureaucracies tend to get bigger, more expensive, and also more militant. In similar style, the federal U.S. Department of Education deploys an armed enforcement division that conducts pre-dawn raids. The Transportation Safety Authority, initially limited to airports, deploys a Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response program that rousts people at train stations and other transportation hubs. It’s all for the protection of the public of course.