Three police officers within five minutes of one another - two in cruisers and one on a motorcycle. That's how many police officers I noticed while I was driving between Elm Grove and Washington Avenue in Wheeling the other day.
The motorcycle officer had a car pulled over, possibly for a traffic violation while the cruisers were patrolling in opposite directions. They were close by in the event any one of them needed back-up.
With the two-man-per-cruiser mandate a thing of the past, there certainly appears to be more police presence on the streets of Wheeling. On a recent Saturday night after finishing the 3-11 p.m. shift, I saw three separate traffic stops by city police between downtown Wheeling and my home near Greggsville. In one stop, a State Police officer was assisting a lone city officer. My guess is they were thwarting the efforts of some speeders and/or drunken drivers. As our parents used to say, "Nothing good happens after 10 p.m."
Some of the city cops were a bit divided on the two-officer-per-cruiser issue. Some wanted and still want two officers in a patrol car while others are perfectly fine with patrolling on their own. State and county officers more often than not are on duty with one officer per car.
City residents spoke loudly and clearly when they rescinded the ordinance at the polls, allowing Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger to assign his officers in various areas of the city according to his best thinking.
That means sometimes there are two officers per patrol car in some areas and at different times of the day. With warm weather finally making a comeback, motorcycle cops also are patrolling the streets.
Several women I have talked to about this said they are pleased to see the extra police presence throughout the city. It's not that there are more officers on a given shift, but more cruisers on the roads.
Schwertfeger's strategy appears to be working. There are fewer crime reports showing up on the police blotter each day, which could mean the increased police visibility is having an effect on street crime.
The thinking that Wheeling could downsize its police department does not seem plausible to me. Wheeling may have lost population and business over the years, but the size of the municipality has spread beyond the downtown and immediate suburbs.
There are pockets of city residents living in the expanding suburban areas that are still within the city limits, and they all need to know that there are enough police officers to come running when they need them.
I don't know about you, but I ease my foot off the pedal a little whenever I see a cruiser approaching, whether I need to or not. Seeing these cruisers in greater numbers has nudged me to pay more attention to speed limits, school zones and stop signs. I like those blue lights, but not in my rear view mirror.
Heather Ziegler can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.