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In response to news that Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak authorized the purchase of more than $180,000 of guns, police-package vehicles and high-tech law enforcement equipment, Sen. Harry Coates on Friday said he was planning legislation to restrict the agency’s efforts to adopt a police-like posture.
The Insurance Department typically investigates white-collar crime. The items purchased by the agency, including bullet-proof vests and mountable shotgun lights, are often used by police and SWAT teams.
Coates said his legislation would be designed to prevent the Insurance Department from giving the public the impression they are a police force. The Seminole Republican said he was concerned that an agency whose revenue is driven by fees and fines might be adopting a police posture to generate revenue through intimidation.
“Oklahomans have gone to the polls in recent years to send the message that we need fewer bureaucrats, not heavily armed bureaucrats. Put simply, the deployment of weaponry and police-package vehicles by the Insurance Department is absurd,” said Coates, R-Seminole. “Not only is it wasteful spending, but it stands to create more problems than it solves. The Insurance Commissioner should have weighed the risk to the public, and questioned whether this was defensible as a legitimate function of his agency, which it isn’t.”
Coates said his legislation will specify the conditions under which agency personnel can possess weapons, and restrict the use of specialized motor vehicles like the police-style SUVs recently purchased by the agency.
“I’m confident Oklahoma taxpayers will not be pleased to find they’ve bought $180,000 of SWAT-style equipment for an agency that doesn’t need it,” said Coates. “It could lead people to the conclusion the Insurance Commissioner is simply using every available public resource he can access to broaden his visibility for political purposes.”