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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Old Town safe, police say, but measures can make it safer

By Stan Finger
The Wichita Eagle

A careful review of Old Town crime trends in the wake of last month’s shooting incident shows the downtown entertainment district is safe, a police official said Thursday, but a variety of steps are still being considered to enhance security in the area.

Police say Marquez Smart, 23, opened fire on a large crowd that had filled the 200 block of North Mosley early on the morning of March 10. He was shot and killed by police officers after they say he refused their orders to drop his gun.

Deputy Chief Tom Stolz said Thursday that police still don’t know why Smart opened fire.

In the weeks after the shooting, police conducted an “environmental scan” of Old Town, walking all 28 blocks, mapping out the area and reviewing crime history.

“There’s really not significant crime problems in Old Town,” Stolz said.

Old Town Association president Charlie Claycomb, who has lived in the entertainment district for nearly eight years, said he hasn’t noticed a decrease in crowds or a change in the mood or atmosphere since the shooting.

“I feel perfectly safe down there,” he said. “But perception is reality, and a lot of people out in the suburbs …”

That’s why he welcomed it when police took a close look at the district. Stolz met with members of the Old Town Association on March 28 to discuss the results of the environmental scan. He plans to hold a similar meeting with club owners later this month.

Of the slightly more than 4,400 crimes reported in Old Town between Jan. 1, 2009, and March 14, 2012, just fewer than 1,000 – or 22 percent – were Type One: violent or serious crimes such as homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, auto thefts, burglaries and larcenies.

Smart’s death is the only homicide during that period. There have been six rapes reported in Old Town during that period, 27 robberies and 76 burglaries. By far the most common crime is larceny – 720 of the 990 serious crimes. They are almost always from vehicles, Claycomb said.

“It’s perfectly safe down there,” he said. “If you’re going to come down there, put your things in the trunk. Lock the car.”

The bulk of the crime occurs on North Mosley from the 100 to 400 blocks, between midnight and 2 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Stolz said.

The 39 clubs in the 28 square blocks that encompass Old Town have a combined capacity of 10,000 patrons, he said. That doesn’t include foot traffic or people in restaurants.

Old Town has “the biggest capacity in our city” for crowds, Stolz said.

Stolz said officials have discussed security issues and crime trends with authorities in cities with entertainment districts similar in size and location as Old Town – such as Oklahoma City, Omaha, Sioux City and Kansas City’s Power and Light district.

Among the measures being considered are additional video surveillance, staggered closing times for clubs so large numbers of people aren’t turned loose on the streets at the same time, and focusing officers in the areas where crimes happen most often.

“You don’t want to make it a military kind of setting … but at the same time it should be safe and secure,” Stolz said.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com.

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