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Wichita police are watching Old Town, but say recent gunfire no cause for panic

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Sep. 7, 2012, at 10:20 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, at 7:45 a.m.

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Recent gun incidents

Over the last three weekends, Wichita police have investigated three calls involving gunfire in Old Town. A summary of the cases:

• Saturday, Aug. 18, 1:50 a.m., 900 block of East First Street: Police respond to a call of someone firing a handgun toward a crowd. No one is hurt, and the suspect escapes.

• Sunday, Aug. 26, 2 a.m., Second and Wabash: Officers hear shots, and witnesses report seeing a man firing at a car carrying two men. A 28-year-old man, who has a handgun in his jacket pocket, is arrested for aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a felon. Police later determine that the shooting stemmed from a dispute over a woman.

• Saturday, Sept. 1, 2:20 a.m.,100 block of North Mosley: Officers hear shots and quickly stop a car carrying the man with a gun. The man, 29, is arrested for carrying a concealed firearm, possession of cocaine and discharging a firearm in city limits. The suspect tells officers he fired the shots in self-defense.

Wichita police say they are concerned but not panicking and will deploy their standard contingent of officers in Old Town tonight after three straight weekends of gunfire in the city’s downtown entertainment district.

Police officials say they have been cracking down on criminal activity in Old Town this summer – a special enforcement Thursday night yielded 25 arrests and 30 citations – but the recent shootings haven’t prompted any change in the overall strategy of policing Old Town.

Police instead are treating the three cases as isolated incidents that are part of the ebb and flow of crime that can be expected in any large gathering of people.

“Are we concerned? Sure we’re concerned. Anytime somebody shoots a gun there’s a concern,” said police Lt. Doug Nolte. “Are we worried? No. This is something we will continue to monitor, but we’re not going to panic.”

Nolte said that anytime you combine alcohol and a large crowd, “you’re going to have issues. What you can’t account for is, ‘Do these people have guns?’ ”

Police records show there were 147 reported violent crimes in Old Town from 2008 through 2011 – about three cases a month. The FBI defines violent crime as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The bulk of the crimes – 104 – were aggravated assaults that involved threats or assaults involving guns, knives or other weapons capable of causing death or great bodily harm.

Police Capt. Max Tenbrook said that for the past three weeks, police have been involved in a special project that has flooded Old Town streets with officers on Thursday nights, which this summer have often been as busy as Friday and Saturday nights. During those operations, Tenbrook said, as many as a dozen officers, most of them officers who normally focus on gangs and street-level drug crimes, supplement the beat officers working in the area.

“Those officers basically deal with whatever’s going on down there,” he said.

Tenbrook said most of the 30 citations issued Thursday night were for traffic violations. He said most of the arrests for were for minor crimes, such as urinating in public, and resulted in suspects being released after being issued notices to appear in court.

Tenbrook said the special assignments will continue next week, though the focus will shift from Thursday nights to Saturday nights. He said the timing of such operations is typically rotated to cover different days of the week.

Tenbrook said that on a typical weekend night when extra officers are not on duty, Old Town is monitored by a about a half-dozen officers and two officers on horseback. At around 1 a.m., as the clubs begin to close, he said, at least a half-dozen other officers from nearby beats usually migrate to the area to help with the club closings.

Brandi Cross, who works at Old Chicago in Old Town, said she doesn’t feel less safe because of the recent shootings.

“Altogether I think it’s fairly safe,” she said. “There’s going to be people causing a ruckus wherever you go. I can’t think of any part of town that hasn’t had some kind of criminal activity.”

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com.

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