Skyrocketing crime rates in South Wheeling prompted Wheeling Police to conduct two special operations this summer.

“Operation Southern Exposure” and “Operation Back To Basics” ended up arresting 34 suspects and exposing some disturbing trends in behavior.

Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger held a news conference, noting the same people are committing the same types of property crimes over and over.

He said some go to jail, get out and do it again.

Others never even go to jail.

He said burglaries are up 80% in Wheeling this year.

“Burglaries into abandoned homes, bicycle thefts, catalytic converter thefts, copper and other metals being stolen—pretty much anything that isn’t tied down,” the chief said. “And ultimately done to cash in and trade for illegal drugs.”

He said in some cases, separate crimes are committed by the same person in a single day.

He said 34 people were arrested, 13 of whom were homeless.

“It is a complex issue,” Chief Schwertfeger said. “And I certainly feel for those who are less fortunate. But at the end of the day, the message that I want to convey today is accountability.”

At the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless, Executive Director Lisa Badia said she was sorry to hear about this.

“I’m very sad to hear that people feel there’s no option but to live in encampments and steal or destroy property to survive,” Badia said.

The chief said one troublesome camp in South Wheeling is going to be torn out by the City and the Department of Highways.

The Homeless Coalition offers options—programs that offer everything from shelter space to rapid re-housing, and from substance use treatment to job opportunities.

But the person has to request it.

In the current crime wave, Chief Schwertfeger has another housing option in mind.

“Individuals who have repeatedly proven they can not function in our society need to be incarcerated,” he said. “We talk quite a bit about this issue and that issue. But we rarely speak on behalf of the victims. Every one of these crimes that I’m referencing has a victim. And we never talk about that.”

The chief said the answers might involve tougher sentences or revoking the bond of repeat offenders.

He says if that means changing the laws, he’ll be happy to work with legislators to make that happen.