As Thomas Paine wrote, "An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret and to misapply even the best of laws."
Paine obviously didn't have beer pong in mind when he wrote the hallowed words that so greatly influenced our Founding Fathers. But in attempting to sanction certain undesirable behavior, we must always take care that such measures aren't used as a pretext for other, less benign motives.
Nonetheless, when a few readers angrily responded that I could not possibly understand what it's like to live on Balboa Peninsula, where many residents have long been plagued by the drunken, late-night antics of bar hoppers and partygoers, I had to admit: They have a point.
So in the interest of open-mindedness, I asked the Newport Beach police if I could tag along as they made their rounds in some of the problem areas.
Sgt. Eric Peterson, a 10-year veteran of the Newport police, graciously agreed to the ride-along. Late on a recent Saturday night, I left police headquarters with Peterson as he attempted to show me how the department handles the city's party scene.
Peterson is a savvy, levelheaded cop with law enforcement in his genes. His father, brother and uncle are current or former members of the Chicago police force. But he wanted something different, so in 1995 he began working for the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was assigned to gang and narcotics units.
After years of working L.A.'s mean streets, Peterson wanted something slower paced and more community-oriented, and he landed in Newport. He received his sergeant's badge last year.
Peterson's patient and even-keeled approach went a long way toward quelling my trepidations over enforcement of the new law. To him, the job is just as much about deterring offensive behavior and diffusing potentially explosive situations as it is about responding after things have gone too far.