Violent crime was down last year in Wheeling, in part because of changes in how law enforcement officers do their work, Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger reported Monday. That is excellent news.
Unfortunately, the improvement in crime deterrent effectiveness may be occurring just in time to cope with an increase in drug-related crime.
Violent crimes including murder, robbery and sexual assaults were down by 8 percent last year, in comparison with 2012, the chief said. At the same time, less serious crimes were up by 11 percent.
Schwertfeger credited better work by officers and changes in how they handle the city, including "geographic policing," for some of the improvement. Also last year, the chief had flexibility denied his predecessors for many years, under a city ordinance that required assigning two police officers to every on-duty cruiser. Voters retired that rule in 2012, with 2013 the first full year in which the chief was able to send out cruisers staffed by only one officer, when that was prudent.
Obviously, the policy allowed Schwertfeger to have more cars out on patrol at any given time.
Police officers are busier than ever. According to the chief, his department responded to 28,679 calls last year. The number was 6 percent higher than for 2012.
And some kinds of crime are increasing. Drug-related offenses were up last year, Schwertfeger noted.
Expect that situation to get worse - quite possibly bringing with it an increase in violent crime.
Despite the best efforts of law enforcement agencies at all levels, the traffic in illegal drugs has scarcely missed a beat during recent years. If anything, it seems to be increasing.
That has been accompanied by what appears to be a jump in the frequency of related crimes, including breaking and enterings in which the perpetrators are looking for drugs and/or the money to buy them.
Schwertfeger and his dedicated force of men and women are to be commended for using new techniques to fight crime. Again, however, their success may be just a prelude to an onslaught of new drug-related crime that will be an enormous challenge.