DMV cops fight terror!

April 1, 2010

I wouldn’t know anything about them if it wasn’t for the two guns. Multipurpose .40 caliber Glock 23’s, to be exact. It’s one of the most popular guns used by law enforcement today. They showed up in the 6,000-plus property survey reports we examined as part of this story on state-generated electronic waste. Though classified in “good” condition, the state was trashing them. The state agency in question was the Department of Motor Vehicles.

You read that right: people who work at the DMV are armed.

According to DMV spokesman Armando Botello, the department has deployed gun-toting investigators statewide since 1953. Today, the DMV’s Investigation Division includes approximately 240 investigators and another 126 non-sworn personnel.

They are “the guardians of the state’s most important documents of its citizens: drivers’ licenses and identification cards,” says the Association of Motor Vehicles Investigators of California (AMVIC), the 200-member union that represents most of the DMV’s cops. They investigate such crimes as ID theft, auto title fraud, odometer discrepancies and illegally selling cars on public streets (no, seriously: in 2006 they busted 14 people in Oxnard for doing exactly that).

Oh, and sometimes they shoot people. In 2008, DMV Investigator Christopher Wagner won the Governor’s Medal of Valor for shooting a suspect who came at him with a knife.

DMV investigators “are sworn peace officers, conducting investigations, executing search warrants, setting up sting operations, making arrests, and occasionally having to draw their firearms in defense of the public,” states this AMVIC webpage. They are, their union tells us with all the War on Terror imagery they can muster, one of our best protectors from enemies foreign and domestic.

“After 9/11, these employees of the Department of Motor Vehicles these employees of the Department of Motor Vehicles moved to the front lines in California’s contribution to national security, and they now conduct joint operations with the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency,” AMVIC tells us. “AMVIC investigators handle more than 20,000 cases a year, but after a 9/11 hijacker was found in possession of a fake California driver’s license, no task became more important than nabbing those with counterfeit documents and busting the rings that produce them.”

The repeated use of “9/11” and words like “nabbing” and “busting” would be literally comical if not for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, secret CIA prisons and the torture of suspected terrorists that also plague our “post-9/11” world. In fact, AMVIC’s Web site is a treasure-trove of hard-boiled DMV cop news, written with more Raymond Chandler prose than you typically find in bureaucratic press releases.

In June 2006, DMV cops were part of a “hush-hush, high-tech investigation” into who knows what (the press release never actually said). Six months later they “raided [the] state’s largest Dodge dealership – which happens to be in Folsom – where they busted up an alleged “Sinister inside job at [the] Social Security Administration.” An eight-month DMV investigation into an alleged “towing scam” in Santa Clara County culminated in June 2007 with two arrests. But a month later, “The DMV is still keeping mum about the reasons behind a group of recent raids conducted by AMVIC-member investigators on Bakersfield trucking companies.”

And then there was this April 21, 2009 release that deserves special recognition. Headlined “DMV investigator busts illegal manufacturer of automobiles,” the release features a picture of a classic Ford Thunderbird and opens with a line that even Mickey Spillane would have had difficulty swallowing: “There was no sexy Suzanne Sommers [sic] in American Graffiti behind the wheel of this vintage Thunderbird, just an experience-hardened and wily DMV investigator, and at the end of this ride, a Santa Monica man was charged with illegally manufacturing gas-alternative cars.”

“DMV investigators are dogged, determined, and diligent and will eventually catch up with you,” AMVIC President Richard Carrillo practically growled in a Sept. 5, 2008 release. Hey, if the Animal Cops have their own cable show, why not the DMV cops, too?

-Anthony Pignataro

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