Put Cruiser Issue To City Voters

When Wheeling police dispatchers receive calls about vandalism, they have no choice but to send two officers to investigate. The same goes for a variety of other duties ranging from patrols in school zones to dealing with fender-bender accidents.

That means fewer officers are available to handle more serious investigations and potentially dangerous situations. In terms of the safety of police officers – and the general public – that makes no sense.

The situation results from a regulation approved by Wheeling voters four decades ago. It stipulates that city police cruisers must be staffed by two officers when on patrol.

Police supervisors can patrol alone, as can officers assigned to motorcycle, bicycle or on-foot duties.

Voters who put the rule in place many years ago were persuaded by arguments cruisers with two officers would be safer for police men and women and would safeguard the public better by having two officers instead of one respond to calls.

That is not necessarily so, however. Public safety probably is served better by having more patrol cars on the street than by limiting the number, as the staffing rule does.

Wheeling City Council members have discussed seeking voter approval to rescind the two-officer per cruiser rule. The matter is on council’s agenda for its meeting tonight.

If council approves, the two-officer per cruiser rule could be placed on the ballot for voters to decide in November. They would have the option of retaining the requirement or rescinding it.

Many voters would like the opportunity to revisit the issue. They recognize eliminating the rule would give police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger more flexibility in assigning officers where and when they are needed most. For more dangerous patrols, he could send two officers out in each car. For less demanding duties, he could use one per cruiser.

Several members of council already have indicated they believe the public should be given a chance to vote on the issue. They are correct. Council should give final approval to a referendum during its meeting tonight.