Wheeling has substantially more police officers than cities of comparable size, both in West Virginia and nationally. Yet we have heard no reports of crime ravaging similar-size cities either in our state or, in general, elsewhere.
That is something City Council members should consider in deciding whether to adopt City Manager Robert Herron's proposal to trim municipal government spending.
At council's direction, Herron has prepared recommendations to slice about $1.1 million a year from the city budget. Much of the burden would fall on the police department.
Herron emphasizes there is no plan to lay off officers already on the force. All but one of the proposed positions to be eliminated would be handled by not filling vacancies. The remaining one would be cut by not filling the next vacancy.
Wheeling, with 28,009 residents (according to the Census Bureau), budgets for 83 positions in the police department.
Parkersburg, with a population of 31,186, has 70 police employees, of whom 62 are officers.
Morgantown, population 30,666, has 77 police employees, including 66 officers. Critics of comparing that city to Wheeling note West Virginia University also has a relatively large police force. But it handles the WVU?campus; the city's 30,666 full time residents are served by the municipal police department.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most recent statistics, U.S. cities with populations between 25,000-49,999 have an average of 1.7 police officers per 1,000 residents. At that rate, Wheeling's police force would have just 48 officers.
No one has suggested a cut that dramatic. In fact, in comparison with many other small- to medium-size cities, Wheeling would remain very well protected with the number suggested by Herron.
Wheeling simply cannot afford to continue growing the size of city government at the same time population - and thus the number of taxpayers - continues to fall.
Herron's plan - "right-sizing" city government, in Mayor Andy McKenzie's words - should be adopted by council.