Column by S.C. Speaker of the House Murrell Smith: We cannot tolerate lawlessness in Sumter


There is no greater responsibility for government than to ensure public safety. No other part of society can function adequately without fundamental law and order. That is why the recent violent events throughout the City of Sumter have been especially alarming to not only myself, but also to the majority of my fellow community members. These events have challenged the public's peace of mind and called the basic notions of public safety into question. I join every law-abiding citizen of Sumter when I say that we cannot tolerate this lawlessness.

I wish to thank Mayor David Merchant for taking the preliminary step of gathering our community leaders to begin addressing this issue in an open forum. It is only through conversations such as these that I believe we will achieve a resolution to Sumter's safety issue.

As I stated before, the government is responsible for ensuring the public's safety. This duty should be shared among every level of government. Our law enforcement officials are the most essential first defense against crime. In Sumter, we are blessed with Chief of Police Russell Roark and Sheriff Anthony Dennis. They are outstanding leaders who command dedicated and committed forces. Chief Roark and Sheriff Dennis have responded quickly to these recent events and have my complete support and confidence.

The General Assembly is mindful of the uptick in violent crimes in recent years and is working to address them as quickly and thoroughly as possible. In my role as the representative for District 67 and as the Speaker of the South Carolina House, I have supported, and in many cases initiated, efforts aimed at assisting our law enforcement agencies. In the past few years, there has been an emphasis on providing additional funding for law enforcement salaries and equipment to assure that the men and women who protect us have the tools they need to do so. The entire Sumter delegation has also joined me hand in hand in this effort.

As your elected state official, I also try to ensure that the laws of this state don't prevent men like Sheriff Dennis and Chief Roark from being able to arrest those who threaten society. This is why the General Assembly has passed recent legislation ending the practice of limitless bond. This makes sure that repeat offenders remain in prison. We have also placed real penalties in law for criminals who possess firearms and created enhanced penalties for those involved in the scourge of fentanyl.

In addition, we passed legislation aimed at stopping organized retail crime and ensuring that "smash and grab" theft is not tolerated in South Carolina. These are only a few of the criminal justice measures passed in the last session aimed at ensuring criminals are held accountable.

Extra funding has also been made available to circuit solicitors to alleviate the backlog of violent offenders awaiting trial, many out on bond while they do so. Unfortunately, throughout much of South Carolina, and especially in Sumter County, this process has remained slow, and backlogs have remained large. Numerous offenders remain out on bond while awaiting trial. This issue, alone, accounts for most of the crimes occurring in the area.

Backlogs exist in every circuit throughout the state but are particularly bad in Sumter despite the availability of new resources. I was proud to partner with Attorney General Alan Wilson to propose the creation of a Statewide Violent Crimes Reduction Unit in which those funds were aimed specifically toward recruiting and retaining additional prosecutors to try cases. Sumter was identified as one of the first areas around the state where these new resources would be sent. However, regardless of the resources the state has to offer, the laws the General Assembly passes are worthless if the offenders are not tried, and if found guilty, kept off our streets.

Sumter is an outstanding community. It has been my home for much of my life. I live and raise my family here. I care deeply about the people in this community and their safety. I have worked tirelessly as District 67's representative to ensure public safety, the government's most significant responsibility. I pledge to this entire county that I will continue to do all I can to ensure that we are secure in our community and that we do not feel threatened by elements of lawlessness and disorder. Sumter has seen so many positive wins in the last decade and is on track to continue this trend. I urge us all to not let this rash of violence overshadow our gains. A threat to any of us is a threat to all of us, which will not stand.

Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, is Speaker of the S.C. House of Representatives.