Wheeling sees a rise in drug-related crimes - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Wheeling sees a rise in drug-related crimes

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Officials in Wheeling are reporting "a big reduction" in crime overall, although they are seeing an increase in drug-involved crimes.

Mayor Andy McKenzie said the drop coincides with the decision to revert to a one-officer-per-cruiser system.

"Since the 1970s we've had two officers in a car," he said. "It was controversial, going from two officers to one, but in the first year that we've done it, the crime rate is down."

Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said the department saw an overall decline of 8 percent last year in violent crimes, a list that includes offenses such as arson, assault, burglary, murder, kidnapping, auto theft, larceny, prostitution and rape.

He said in 2013, assaults were down 10 percent, burglaries were down 18 percent, motor vehicle theft was down 39 percent and robberies, 53 percent. 

Drug offenses, frauds and prostitution, on the other hand, increased.

What he calls "quality of life issues," which includes bad checks, vagrancy, disorderly conduct arrests, drunken driving, drunkenness, family offenses and liquor violations, were fairly constant, he said. The number of DUIs was down 5 percent, though. Schwertfeger also said his officers responded to 28,679 calls in 2013, up 6 percent from the year before.

Drug crimes, however, have been inching up, a trend Schwertfeger said is "troubling" since it fuels ancillary crimes, such as shoplifting, burglaries and larceny.

"I'm troubled by the drug epidemic, particularly with prescription pills," Schwertfeger said. "We had 15 people indicted by a federal grand jury just this week — obviously, they are all innocent until proven guilty, but one of them is an elementary school counselor, a professionally educated individual."

Since council reversed the two officers/one cruiser policy, McKenzie said he's been able to get more police on the streets.

"Just the increased visibility alone has made a difference," Schwertfeger said. "We doubled the number of black-and-whites on the streets just by getting rid of the ordinance, so, clearly, it's the primary reason our crime is down."

Moving forward, he said his goals will be to continue to make inroads in violent crimes "while paying attention to the quality of life issues that may surface in our city," adding the department will be renewing its focus on highway safety in 2014.