Vote to Repeal Cruiser Rule Already Resulting in Changes

WHEELING – Changes have already taken place within the Wheeling Police Department, less than two days after residents voted to overturn a longstanding rule requiring officers to partner up on patrol.

One immediate transition, Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said, is that residents no longer will see pairs of officers performing routine, targeted enforcement activities aimed at catching DUI, stop light and other traffic offenses. More comprehensive changes are possible by the first of the year – but Schwertfeger said before making those decisions, he first wants to spend time studying where and at what times it may be better to maintain two-officer patrols.

He said he wasn’t overly concerned with how Tuesday’s election would turn out, but he is looking forward to having the flexibility to deploy the department’s resources as he sees fit – and he believes that flexibility will allow him to run the most efficient force possible.

“There was no victory party. … I look at it as a vote of confidence of the citizens of Wheeling,” Schwertfeger said of the election results.

He said it will not be necessary for the city to purchase additional cruisers for him to take advantage of his newfound options.

“Our current fleet is capable of going to the one-man car immediately,” Schwertfeger said, though he does plan to ask City Council to upgrade the fleet with “two to four” additional vehicles when he and other department heads submit budget requests in January.

Wheeling voters on Tuesday rejected the law, which had been in effect since 1972, by almost a 2-1 margin. But any changes made under the new policy could be short-lived if a judge grants the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 38’s request for an injunction against the city.

The organization argues the election results should be voided, claiming City Council did not follow proper procedures in voting to put the referendum on Tuesday’s ballot. City officials maintain they followed all rules, pointing to factual errors in the FOP’s complaint that conflict with council’s official meeting minutes.