Communication Channels Vital

Situations involving law enforcement officers often are not pleasant, especially for those suspected of transgressions. Being arrested or even questioned about a crime is not most people’s idea of a good time.

Nevertheless, police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers have codes of conduct for their interactions with anyone, even those accused of crimes. Last week, some of those attending an Ohio Valley Black Caucus meeting accused some Wheeling police officers, along with city judges and magistrates, of racially based harassment.

To her credit, caucus President Delores Wiggins said she wanted to discuss the allegations with police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger before taking any other action. On Wednesday, the chief met with Wiggins and other caucus leaders.

Afterward, Schwertfeger made it a point to tell our reporter action by his officers during one arrest discussed last week was justified. He added that his officers have not been accused of using racial slurs and that he has heard no evidence of corruption.

But – and Schwertfeger seems to realize this is a very big “but” – he added there may be “cultural differences” between police officers and some Wheeling residents. Some of the language used by officers could be seen by minorities as offensive, he added.

Schwertfeger said he plans to discuss his meeting with caucus members “with the entire (police) department.” He added he will be talking to officers about “what I deem to be acceptable behavior and what I don’t.”

Good. Prior to the meeting, Wiggins had said she trusts Schwertfeger. Afterward, the chief referred to the gathering as “cordial” and “productive.”

Clearly, the very nature of law enforcement requires officers to have an adversarial relationship with some people at some times. Otherwise, the officers simply would not be doing their jobs.

Just as clearly, the chief and, we believe, Wheeling police officers, are not interested in unnecessarily abrasive interactions with anyone in the public. Relationships such as those between Wiggins and Schwertfeger can help avoid that. Keeping those channels of communication healthy is critical.