Wheeling Police Chief, Cops Cross Paths on Jaywalking Tickets

WHEELING – A Wheeling police officer issued a jaywalking ticket to a city parking enforcement officer on Friday after several police officers were notified that they must pay outstanding parking fines to the city – or face possible arrest.

The matter is under review by police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger in light of the possibility that the jaywalking ticket was issued to the parking officer in retaliation for the parking tickets.

“I am not opening an internal investigation, but I am doing a personal review of the matter,” Schwertfeger said. “I can understand that the perception may be that the officers are acting in a retaliatory fashion, but perception is not always reality. “

All told, the police officer issued tickets for jaywalking violations to five people Friday, including the city parking enforcement officer. The police officer issued that ticket on Chapline Street in front of police headquarters. Daily police reports show the tickets were issued between 9:38 a.m. and 12:07 p.m.

Although the fine for jaywalking is only $10, court costs bring the total amount of the ticket to $72, as one woman who received a jaywalking ticket Friday on Market Street learned.

The woman said the police officer approached her as she crossed Market Street to lunch outside of the crosswalk. She said she asked the officer if he could just issue a warning and he said, “No. We are cracking down on jaywalking.”

City officials are disputing that claim, with Schwertfeger noting it’s “impossible” to walk around downtown without jaywalking.

“I do it all the time,” he said.

When it comes to writing tickets for any violation, Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball said, “If officers see a violation, it’s up to their discretion to enforce it.”

Kimball confirmed that police officers are permitted to park free of charge in the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center on Main Street but many choose to park closer to the City-County Building at metered spaces in East Wheeling for personal safety reasons and because they must carry duty gear to the job.

He said officers get no special parking privileges for their personal vehicles and they must pay for parking violations the same as everyone else.

“Many of our guys received letters from the city Finance Department a couple of days before the jaywalking tickets were issued, warning them that failure to pay for accumulated violations may result in warrants being issued for their arrest,” Kimball said.

Given the timing of the Finance Department letters and the jaywalking tickets, Schwertfeger determined a closer look was warranted.

He said he has just started reviewing the facts and it would be inappropriate to speak on behalf of the officer who issued the tickets until he has an opportunity to discuss the matter with him.

“As a general statement, there is a phenomenon that I call ‘contempt of cop,’ and when the phenomenon presents itself, it never ends well,” he said. “Officers who have a tendency to react out of ‘contempt of cop’ often have short careers. Those who believe they are above the law not only erode the public trust, they erode the trust of fellow officers.”

The chief said officers do have discretion to take enforcement action on a law that is on the books, but jaywalking violations often are not enforced.

Wheeling City Code 371.03 states, “every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway. Any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian crossing has been provided shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway. Between adjacent intersections at which traffic control signals are in operation pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk.”