WHEELING - The Wheeling Police Department is now engaged in a city-wide effort to prevent those crimes that increase as the skies clear and the temperatures rise.
On Friday, Wheeling Police Chief Kevin Gessler said a prostitution sting that netted seven arrests Thursday in Center Wheeling is only part of a "directed patrol" effort to target the illegal activities that traditionally coincide with the arrival of summer.
In addition to prostitution, Gessler said those illegal activities include the sale and use of drugs, public drunkenness, underage consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct and noise violations. He said his officers have had planning sessions for at least the past three weeks in preparation for the effort. The chief said the directed patrols were initiated May 22, and speeding was the first crime specifically targeted by Wheeling officers.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
Wheeling Police Chief Kevin Gessler, right, and Lt. Gary Gaus discuss the department’s city-wide effort to target “nuisance crimes.”
Gessler said the current enforcement efforts will continue for weeks. Thursday's prostitution sting focused on Center Wheeling, but prostitution stings may be conducted in East Wheeling and on Wheeling Island as well, according to the chief.
Gessler said "quality-of-life violations," such as excessive noise and disorderly conduct, will be targeted throughout Wheeling, but officers will pay special attention to Wheeling Island, East Wheeling and all city playgrounds. Officers will look at facilities and areas where there are lot of calls for service.
Gessler noted said that two city "clubs" and a "residential facility" also are of interest to the Wheeling Police Department. He said those places could be targeted by Wheeling's nuisance ordinance.
"There are three specific locations that we are collecting info on for past calls for service," Gessler said. "We are looking at the conditions of the locations and seeing if the current activity is consistent with the past. Two of them are licensed premises."
The chief said the current "directed patrol" effort is to ensure that "nuisance crimes" do not ruin summer activities for law-abiding Wheeling residents.
"This is when everyone is going to enjoy the good weather and wonderful activities in the community," Gessler said. "We aren't going to let the nuisances bother the good folks.
"There will be a strong (police) presence in the next few weeks," he added. "At the ballfields, they'd better not pull out a cooler and start opening beers."
Gessler said Thursday's prostitution sting was held from 7:30-10:30 p.m. in Center Wheeling in the areas of 20th and Main streets. He said the men were arrested after allegedly offering to pay an undercover city officer for sex.
Gessler said the sting operation was an important effort because prostitution is a criminal activity commonly associated with drugs and violent crime. He said it also is a health concern.
"Without a doubt, it's a nuisance," Gessler said. "This time of year, after Memorial Day, there is warmer weather and more people active. Three weeks ago there was a meeting with the command officers. We sent out officers to pretty much make an assessment of the neighborhoods, and then we had a plan of action. ... It (prostitution) won't be tolerated."
Six of the seven men arrested were transported to the Northern Regional Jail. One of them was issued a citation and released. The men arrested on a charge of soliciting for prostitution were: