January 9, 2022, is National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, a day dedicated to showing our support for the law enforcement agents that work tirelessly to protect our state’s environment and stop the diversion and abuse of controlled substances.
DHEC thanks these men and women for the dedication, service, and commitment to the rule of law they display every day.
The agency has two law enforcement units:
- Healthcare Quality, Bureau of Drug Control
- Environmental Affairs, Office of Law Enforcement
Healthcare Quality Bureau of Drug Control
DHEC’s Bureau of Drug Control (BDC) serves a regulatory role as well as provides enforcement of the South Carolina Controlled Substances Act. These agents are pharmacists who have undergone additional training through the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy to become state law enforcement officers.
They conduct onsite inspections and audits of pharmacies, hospitals, and practitioners to make sure they are properly recording, storing, and handling controlled substances. These important members of our Healthcare Quality team make recommendations and help these entities follow proper procedures in handling these medications.
“We’re not trying to be the bad guy,” said Agent Robert Poulos. “We’re here to educate, too. We build relationships with pharmacists because we need them to trust us enough to report issues they see.”
BDC inspectors respond to complaints and concerns reported to DHEC that sometimes indicate criminal activity or misuse of controlled substances. When warranted, they also make arrests.
“I enjoyed catching forgeries while I was a retail pharmacist,” said Agent Ben McKever. “Now I get to investigate criminal activity instead of just reporting it.”
Drug Control agents opened 932 criminal investigations in 2021. Of those investigations, 246 involved healthcare practitioners. In addition, agents conducted 2,101 regulatory inspections and 126 controlled substance accountability audits.
Agents work closely with local law enforcement, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation in their ongoing fight against the misuse of controlled substances.
Environmental Affairs Office of Law Enforcement
“It is the responsibility of the Office of Law Enforcement to ensure the health and safety of South Carolina citizens and our environment by enforcing the laws and regulations that keep us safe from those who would do intentional harm, “said Chief Michael Tempel.
Officers and Investigators assigned to the Office of Law Enforcement are certified by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy as Class 1 Police Officers commissioned by SLED with statewide jurisdiction to conduct investigations, carry firearms, make arrests, and execute and serve search warrants to gather evidence of these crimes.
Two Special Investigators within the Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) investigate grossly negligent, willful, and knowing violations of state and federal environmental criminal laws. Investigations generally involve criminal violations of:
- The Hazardous Waste Management Act,
- Pollution Control Act,
- Solid Waste Policy and Management Act,
- State Safe Drinking Water Act,
- Infectious Waste Management Act, and
- And other general and related crimes.
Frequently, other crimes are uncovered during the investigation of environmental crimes, such as complex conspiracies, fraudulent schemes, and falsification of documents. OCI works closely with state and federal prosecutors to bring those responsible for all these crimes to justice.
Shellfish Sanitation Program
The Shellfish Sanitation Program is a health and environmental protection program with three primary responsibilities:
- classification of the waters used for the growing and cultivating of molluscan shellfish,
- certification and inspection of facilities that process, and
- distribute shellfish and patrol those areas that are determined to be unsuitable for the harvesting of shellfish.
The 10-officer team primarily operates in the coastal counties but does conduct operations as needed throughout the state. Their responsibilities include patrolling the shellfish (oysters and clams) harvesting grounds and inspecting shellfish processors and transporters.
In 2021, the Office of Law Enforcement:
- Conducted 18 complex criminal investigations,
- Collected 5,501 water quality samples,
- Conducted 2,039 Law Enforcement Patrols,
- Made 1,111 contacts with the public,
- Issued 83 tickets and 83 dealer permits,
- Answered 71 intra-agency calls for assistance,
- Conducted 125 facility inspections, and
- Attended 21 court hearings.
DHEC officers also work closely with counterparts in the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.