Officers Certified to Stay ‘SHARP’


Staff Writer

WHEELING – With city police acknowledging that sexual assault remains a prevalent crime in society, three officers are prepared to share the physical and behavioral strategies they learned that can prevent someone from becoming a victim.

Sgt. Kevin Kettler, along with Officers Megan Talkington and Rob Safreed, underwent hours of training and earned certification to instruct a course in Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention. The development of the SHARP program has been ongoing, according to the department, but Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger thought it would be fitting to announce the new initiative during April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

A local university professor approached Kettler with the idea. The professor recently arrived in the Ohio Valley from another area of the country and was in disbelief that such training was not already available locally.

Kettler, who oversees the department’s pressure point control tactics training, proposed the program to Schwertfeger, and the sergeant then recruited Talkington and Safreed. All three officers said they have responded to sexual assaults in the field.

Talkington, who is one of five female officers with the department, said the program’s lessons are practical and can easily be put to use. Safreed pointed out that more than any defensive physical act, awareness and prevention psychology are paramount in guarding against sexual assault.

The stranger waiting in the bushes or the burglar who climbs through the bedroom window are no longer the archetypal sexual assault suspects, Kettler stressed. According to statistics provided by the police department, only 25 percent of sexual assault are committed by strangers.

“It could be someone you go class with,” Kettler said, “or someone you occasionally see at the bar.”

Alcohol or drug use is reported in more than half of sexual assaults, police statistics show, and Kettler said women should be especially vigilant when drinking.

“Who is a rapist more likely to target: a woman who can fight back, or someone who can hardly stand and most likely won’t remember what happened?” Kettler proposed.

Following are some sexual assault statistics, provided by Wheeling police:

– Nearly one in six adult women are victims of attempted to completed sexual assault.

– Every two minutes a sexual assault occurs.

– Only 25 percent of reported sexual assaults are committed by strangers.

– Alcohol or drug use is reported in more than half of sexual assaults.

– Four out of five students and two-thirds of college students reported sexual harassment.

The officers can tailor the course to accommodate a group’s size or time constraints, as well as its members. A group of female college students may not receive identical instruction as a group of office co-workers. Kettler said the course may be developed into as much as eight weeks of instruction, or officers can provide a standard eight-hour course.

Schwertfeger hopes SHARP training will accomplish two goals of the department’s strategic plan: enhancing community outreach and enhancing public safety. According to statistics, Wheeling police officers dealt with 33 “forcible sex offenses” last year, twice as many as in 2011.

Kettler said local universities and businesses already have expressed interest in the program. Any group interested in receiving SHARP training can contact the Wheeling Police Department at 304-234-3664.