WHEELING - Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger is confident investigations into three recent bank robberies will result in arrests, and he thinks two of them may be connected.
Schwertfeger's comments are in response to three recent robberies, including March 25 when a man flashed a knife as he robbed the United Bank on 12th Street; April 4 at the Chase Bank on Market Street and the latest one Monday at the United Bank branch in Bethlehem.
Schwertfeger said his thoughts about two of the robberies being connected are not based on positive links, but rather on his training and personal experience in past robberies. He said the robberies and a spike in car thefts and burglaries may be attributed to drug use, as many people are desperate for money because of their addictions.
Photo by Joselyn King/Following a string of bank robberies, including one at the Chase Bank on Market Street in Wheeling April 4, local authorities continue to investigate and follow leads they feel will result in arrests.
"It's a true problem and we need to get a hold of it," he said. "It's not just a police issue or prevention devises, but all of the above. We must look at preventive treatment programs, education and good parenting."
Schwertfeger said his department is working with a group of investigators representing the West Virginia State Police, the FBI, Ohio County Sheriff's Department, Bethlehem Police Department and Martins Ferry Police Department.
"We meet regularly to continue to analyze the cases, discuss strategies and make sure we are not duplicating work," he said.
He said officers are stepping up patrols around banks, but would not go into details about their strategies.
"Obviously when we talk about providing increased visibility at the banks, we can not blanket the city." he said. "It's not realistic. We do not have enough officers to do that. And that's where it becomes very important that we work very closely with our citizens."
He said keeping beat officers informed and communicating with residents are key elements in solving the crimes.
While law enforcement does its work on the cases, local banks are becoming more vigilant.
Main Street Bank President Rich Lucas said all banks have robbery procedures in place with industry-wide specialized training and continuing education programs.
"At Main Street Bank specifically, we have invested in the highest level of technology for high resolution surveillance equipment," he said. "Our systems produces high definition real-time imagery. We hope that deters robbery activities."
He said for most banks, it's a matter of budget, timing and scheduling to have quality equipment in use.
Lucas said another thing shared by all banks is the intention to prosecute robbers to the fullest.
"I don't know any underlying cause other than money for these robberies," he said. "I will say all banks will have no forgiveness or leniency for violators."
Officials for Chase Bank and United Bank could not be reached for comment.