Cue the jangling spurs, wind-tossed duster and squint-eyed man reaching for his pistol—a new sheriff just stepped into town and is ready to keep the peace. California’s Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) Division of Labor Standards Enforcement yesterday announced the formation of a new group that will have its eye squarely focused on employers. The DIR’s new Criminal Investigation Unit (CIU) will scrutinize employers that perpetrate wage theft and other illicit activities against workers.

The CIU will comprise sworn peace officers who have graduated from the police academy.  CIU officers will report to California Labor Commissioner Julie Su, and will have the authority to investigate and arrest employers for labor code violations, file criminal charges and serve subpoenas and inspection warrants. They also will be permitted to carry firearms.

“We are very excited to announce the creation of this unit, which will be tasked with leveling the playing field for California employers by raising the stakes for those who underpay, underbid and under-report in violation of the law,” Su said in a statement. “This is a vital tool in our efforts to step up enforcement to protect California workers and employers struggling to make an honest living.”

The CIU will handle cases related to a range of topics, including workers’ compensation violations, theft of labor, payment of wages with bounced checks or other insufficient funds, unlicensed farm labor contractors and garment manufacturers, kickbacks on public works projects, violations involving minors on the job and impeding Labor Commission investigations.

“As a law enforcement agency, we will use all tools available to us to bring about compliance,” Su added. “The Labor Code’s criminal provisions acknowledge that wage theft is a threat not just to those most directly affected, but to public safety and the health of our economy. It is my job to enforce those provisions, and now we will do so.”