I have had a law license for 35 years. I am a lucky guy. Through economic boom or gloom, I can depend on my elected officials to pass more laws nationally, statewide, and locally to keep my office busy. Rarely are laws rescinded.
More than 4,450 federal crimes are scattered throughout the 50 titles of the Federal Code of Laws. In addition, it is estimated that there are at least 10,000 (maybe as many as 300,000) federal regulations that can be enforced criminally.
State and local laws are no different. Try opening a small business or, heaven forbid, a restaurant or bar. Have you visited a municipal court lately? And be sure to try out our "nationally recognized" Livability Court. What happens there trumps any notion that we are "the most polite city in the nation."
Do we really need law enforcement intervention, prosecutors, judges, and juries to sanction someone when they leave out their garbage cans or when an art patron has a glass of wine on Broad Street or when a tourist takes a swig of beer in midtown?
To enforce these many laws, we need — what else — law enforcement. In Charleston County there are at least nine different municipalities with law enforcement departments, including the Charleston Police Department, Folly Beach Department of Public Safety, Isle of Palms Police Department, North Charleston Police Department, Kiawah Island Department of Public Safety, Lincolnville Police Department, Mt. Pleasant Police Department, Seabrook Island Department of Public Safety, and the Sullivan's Island Police Department. And that doesn't include the Charleston County Sheriff's Department.
There are also numerous state agencies with law enforcement powers, including the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Highway Patrol, Department of Health and Environmental Control, Ports Authority, Department of Natural Resources, and Department of Social Services.
And these lists don't even include the federal agencies.
Can we really afford this? Are we that much safer?
There was a time when the word "criminal" reflected the worst of us. The political trend now is to over-criminalize America with laws and regulations that govern every aspect of our lives, leaving us with constricted civil liberties, an enormous fiscal debt, and a lost sense of civic duty, respect for others, and self-control.
Last year, a local chief of police whose administration is often focused on drinking in public, and with high-tech cameras to catch those offenders, told an anxious parent of a missing child that his department could not afford to spend much time on missing persons as they were investigating "real" crimes. Oh, really?