Editor’s note: Our series, “Wheeling@Work,” is an effort to provide readers with insight and information into our city government, highlighting the personalities, programs and processes at work within the City of Wheeling. Today’s story features Shawn Schwertfeger, the city’s chief of police.
In the case of Wheeling Chief of Police Shawn Schwertfeger, that love has only grown with his return to the Northern Panhandle. After serving for more than 20 years in a number of roles at a larger police department in Virginia, Schwertfeger returned to take up the title as Wheeling’s chief in 2013.
Schwertfeger said being back in town rekindles fond memories of growing up here, playing sports, and of his dad, the late Bob Schwertfeger, who never missed a game.
“I lived in the Beech Bottom area in a place called Power,” Schwertfeger recalled. “My dad started working at the AEP Mitchell Plant when I was in the first grade. My father was my best friend. I was a three-sport athlete and don’t think my dad ever missed a single game.
“At his funeral, the memory of him coming home from the plant after working a 12-hour shift with his blue hard hat and safety glasses really jumped out at me. Not one time did he not put his lunch bucket and hat down and spend some time playing ball with us. He was a good dude, and I certainly miss him. I wish I could have worked here when he was living.”
When he’s at work, Schwertfeger said it’s not hard to find people like his dad — not only caring, hardworking officers, but people who sometimes go out of their way to make sure the police know that they’re appreciated. While he said his prior experience with the public had sometimes been adversarial, the people of Wheeling embrace their officers.
“A story that I tell is that I went to a call in South Wheeling. They’d called for a supervisor, and they’d found a really small child just running in the alley. The child showed them where he lived. They went in to do a welfare check and found a bunch of unsupervised children, one of whom was an infant,” Schwertfeger said.
“If I had arrived at that scene in Virginia, I would have found an officer awaiting Child Protective Services, and that would have been the end of it. The [Wheeling] officers had taken the child out of the playpen, were changing diapers and feeding the child.”
“Our officers really care,” he continued. “We had an officer award recently for an officer called to a fire [who] ended up spending time with a child and rendering that sort of compassion. That’s what I want people to know about their officers.”
While Schwertfeger said the role of chief changes from day to day depending on what the force needs, he likes to maintain an open-door policy when it comes to being accessible to his staff and fellow officers.
“There’s always someone wanting to talk about something, and all of it’s important,” Schwertfeger said. “I miss very much being a police officer. I miss working a beat, but admittedly being the chief here is a lot more involved than I had anticipated. Certainly, there’s a degree of dedication and a lot of things we’ve ended up putting as our core values: integrity, teamwork, accountability, are all necessary skills not just for my position but for any police position.”
Outside of work, Schwertfeger said he most enjoys spending time with his wife Christy, daughter Ashlee and mom Lois. Sports, whether playing golf or watching a game, still hold a special place in the Schwertfeger family’s life.
“I used to drive six hours for a Pirates or Steelers game. I’m just now really starting to get into hockey,” he said. “My wife and daughter are baton twirlers, and my wife teaches twirling and coaches at Wheeling Park High School. My daughter was the first featured twirler at Wheeling Park. I like to play golf. I’m a member of a couple golf clubs locally. I go out and hack every weekend.”
In the summertime, the family can also be found enjoying their powerboat on the river or any local lake.
While he said he knows roadwork can frustrate all of us around the valley, he said he’s proud of the city and can’t wait to see what the future here holds.
“There’s always something to do, always somewhere to eat,” Schwertfeger said. “Many times, on a Saturday, I can’t decide [where to eat]. It’s a small city but it has such a bigger-city feel. I’m proud to serve in the capacity, and it’s been an honor to be the chief for the last seven-and-a-half years.”
• Cassie Bendel was born in Wheeling and raised in Bellaire. A graduate of St. Vincent College, she began her writing career as a reporter with The Times Leader and the Steubenville Herald-Star before writing content for SiriusXM Satellite Radio and a national faith-based consulting company. After more than a decade in Pennsylvania, she has moved back to the Ohio Valley with her husband and two sons.