Serious Crimes Rose In 2012

WHEELING – The Wheeling Police Department responded to 26,847 calls for service in 2012 – an average of 73 per day and 5 percent more than in 2011, statistics reported to the West Virginia State Police indicate.

City police officers dealt with 33 forcible sex offenses last year, twice as many as in 2011, and saw increased instances of robbery and crimes involving weapons. The statistics also show a 45 percent increase in drug offenses.

Chief Shawn Schwertfeger called the increase in some of those crimes against persons “perplexing,” noting it can often take a few years to identify the reasons for those trends. But he said it is something the department is monitoring.

“We always stay on top of the more serious crime trends,” he said.

Schwertfeger believes increased awareness of sex crimes, particularly those involving children, and dangers posed by Internet predators are partly responsible for that increase, demonstrating that fewer of those crimes are going unreported.

The number of robberies increased from 47 in 2011 to 54 last year. Crimes involving weapons increased from 14 to 24, drug offenses rose from 148 to 214 and motor vehicle theft incidents increased from 36 to 51.

Crimes which saw significant decreases – about 20 percent each – include burglary, larceny and vandalism. Schwertfeger acknowledged some surprise at that result considering the increase in drug offenses, which he said typically lead to a spike in property crimes committed by individuals desperate to feed their drug addiction.

However, he believes that is a reflection of the department’s emphasis on being proactive on patrol, getting to know a neighborhood and preventing crime as opposed to reacting to it.

There were no reported murders in the city in 2012, following a 2011 that saw two. The number of overall arrests increased 6 percent, from 1,207 to 1,283.

Schwertfeger acknowledged the overall number of calls for service – almost one for every man, woman and child in the city – is quite high for a city of Wheeling’s size. But he said Wheeling is not a typical small community.

“Drive around Wheeling and see how many out-of-state plates there are,” said Schwertfeger. “Wheeling is much bigger than its population … Wheeling is kind of a hub.”

Another notable trend is DUI arrests, up from 142 in 2011 to 204 last year. Traffic citations also increased more than 40 percent, from 2,886 to 4,119.

That, according to Schwertfeger, is almost certainly tied to state and federally funded programs such as the Governor’s Highway Safety Program that allow some officers to focus solely on traffic enforcement. He also said officers have been issuing more citations instead of warnings as of late – the department as a whole gave 436 warnings in 2012, compared to 868 in 2011.

Schwertfeger praised the work done by Cpl. Neil Fowkes, who is the department’s highway safety coordinator, and added many people are under the impression that officers have “quotas” they must fill in writing tickets.

“That’s nonsense,” Schwertfeger said. “It’s just a renewed focus on trying to deter some of the driving behavior that we see.”