Violent crimes such as rape and robbery were up dramatically last year in Wheeling. So were drug offenses. In all likelihood, that is not a coincidence.
Wheeling police investigated 33 "forcible sex offenses" last year, more than twice as many as in 2011. Robberies and crimes involving weapons also were up substantially.
At the same time, police investigated 214 drug offenses, up 45 percent from the previous year. The number amounts to an average of four per week.
Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger told our reporter his department monitors crime trends, but has not reached conclusions concerning the increase. Obviously, that is a wise approach. Knee-jerk reactions to violence can divert resources from the true causes.
Again, however, it is probable the spike in violent crime is related to the drug abuse crisis sweeping West Virginia and the Ohio Valley.
Other than enforcing drug laws strictly, as they do in Wheeling, there is not much municipal police or sheriff's departments can do about the epidemic.
Our elected representatives in the West Virginia Legislature and Congress have more options.
Drug abuse has reached the crisis level in West Virginia. We have the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation. Many of those overcrowding our jails and prisons are there because of drug-related crimes.
It has been suggested more effective drug treatment programs - for both convicts and the public - are needed. State legislators should make that a priority.
Members of Congress from West Virginia and East Ohio should do all in their power to ensure federal funding for law enforcement and health programs is targeted at drug abuse. Obviously, more needs to be done to close the many drug pipelines leading into our state from elsewhere. And in terms of public health funding, drug abuse prevention needs to be high on the priority list.
Wheeling police are not alone in coping with an upsurge in drug-related crime. Again, local law enforcement officers and agencies are limited in what they can do about it. At both the state and federal levels, more attention needs to be paid to the plague.