For those looking to avoid the weekend violence that has plagued Old Town this summer, Wichita police statistics can offer some guidance: Stay out of the 200 block of North Mosley between midnight and 3 a.m.
Police records show violent crime is rare in Wichitas downtown entertainment district, but that when it happens its usually around 2 a.m. closing time for most of the clubs. In four consecutive weekends, from Aug. 18 through Sept. 9, gunfire has erupted in or around Old Town between 1:50 and 2:20 a.m.
Those concerned about the shootings have looked at a range of possibilities from feuding gangs to complete randomness but have found nothing to tie the shootings together other than the times that they have occurred.
Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said that if one disregards crimes that occur in the 200 block of North Mosley from midnight to 3 a.m. on Friday through Sunday, crime in Old Town is about the same as crime in any other commercial district in the city.
Theres a non-representative sample of crime in that block on those days in those times, he said. Its out of whack with the rest of Old Town.
As a short-term measure to curb further violence, police assigned more than a dozen extra officers to Old Town this weekend, all of whom will be on the streets at club closing times. Police this weekend also started experimenting with temporary street closings in an effort to discourage cruising through the Old Town area as the clubs are letting out.
Stolz said police also are looking for long-range solutions, one of which would involve asking club owners to voluntarily stop catering to customers under 21 for a period of a few months. If the crime rate drops significantly in those months, he said, police might ask that the restrictions be made permanent. Many clubs in Old Town admit underage customers as long as they do not drink.
City Council member Janet Miller, whose district includes Old Town, said city officials also have been looking at what other cities have done to halt violence in entertainment districts.
I dont think we have all the answers yet, but I will say that it has our attention, she said. We are concerned, and were working to address the issue. It is absolutely on our radar.
Police records show that for the past few years, crime has been relatively stable in what Wichita police refer to as Crime Zone 40, which runs from Douglas north to Central, and Broadway east to Washington. The number of Part 1 crimes reported in that zone ranged from a low of 228 in 2006 to a high of 375 in 2008. There were 283 crimes reported there last year. Year-to-date 2012 figures were not available.
Most of the violent crimes reported in Old Town were classified as aggravated assaults, and the 200 block of North Mosley recorded more assaults than any other block in Old Town. The address in the 200 block of North Mosley that generated the most assault reports was 252 N. Mosley, which is the home of Old Towns biggest club Doc Howards. It has a capacity of 1,400.
Police records show 252 N. Mosley was listed in 359 police reports from 2008 through 2011, far more than any other Old Town establishment. By comparison, Harry & Ollies at 4805 E. Harry, which closed last year after the Wichita City Council declared it a threat to public health, generated 154 reports during the same time period.
Doc Howards owner Bryan Shapiro said the figures are misleading.
Theyre just using it as a generic address, he said. They use our address for everything.
Shapiro noted that some of the reports attached to his address list a location of parking lot or garage. And he questioned a sexual battery report.
We dont have a parking lot or garage, he said. Ive never had a sexual battery in this building. Period.
Weve never had a problem with a gun in this place.
Capt. Max Tenbrook said officers have to have an address when making out a police report, and he said an officer might use 252 N. Mosley as an address on a report about an incident that starts as an argument inside Doc Howards and ends with a fist fight outside.
Were not going to be at Douglas and West and using his address, he said.
But Tenbrook stopped short of blaming the violence on Doc Howards or any other bar.
Doc Howards, I would say, is not a problem, he said. The problem is the behavior of the people in the area.
Although he questions the accuracy of the police reports, Shapiro said he understands the concern about the recent gunfire.
I dont downplay that theres an issue down here, he said.
Shapiro said the increase in crime could be attributed to an increase in the number of clubs that have DJs and dancing. Six years ago, he said, he ran one of two dance clubs in Old Town. Today, he said, there are nearly a dozen.
Weve got a lot more people coming down here than we did before, he said.
Charlie Claycomb, who is president of the Old Town Association and has lived in the area for more than eight years, said he and his wife feel perfectly safe in Old Town most of the time.
Im not sure I want to be out on the street at 2 a.m.," he said. "You get that many intoxicated people out there, weird things happen."
The recent shooting incidents may have some people thinking Old Town isnt safe, he said. But he said he feels comfortable enough to walk with his granddaughter, who is about 8, from Old Town to Century II to see The Lion King and then walk home after the show.
Its perfectly safe to be down there for dinner and a movie and to shop and go to bars," Claycomb said. Its a different dynamic after midnight. Its a totally different crowd."
There is growing momentum among Old Town Association members for a stronger loitering ordinance, Claycomb said. He said many club owners are interested in using a scanner system that could be used on drivers licenses at entrances. Anyone with a history of causing trouble could be barred from entering the club.
This is a product of our own success," Claycomb said. "Its because of Old Town being popular that you get the concentration of people, and then you have the higher probability of an incident."
Other than the times and locations, the shootings in Old Town seem to have few similarities. A summary:
• Saturday Aug. 18, 1:50 a.m., 900 block of East First Street: Police respond to a call of an unknown man 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 on suspicion of 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 a man with a gun. The man, 29, is arrested on suspicion of 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. That suspect has an out-of-state felony conviction.
• Sunday, Sept. 9, 2 a.m., 200 block of North Mead. Officers are at the Old Town parking garage when someone in a white SUV fires into the garage while driving north on Mead. The SUV driver escapes, and its not clear whether the officers were targeted.
Among those at the scene of the Sept. 9 shooting was Wichita Eagle photographer Fernando Salazar, who was on assignment taking pictures.
It was pretty intense, Salazar said of the situation. It was one of those scenes where I was thinking, Something bad could happen right now. There were a couple of times during the night that I thought this could get dangerous.
Salazar said he was walking north on Mosley, past the parking garage, when the gunfire erupted, flattening the tire of a parked pickup he was standing next to.
I just heard the three shots pow pow pow, he said. I thought, Are those shots? Are those firecrackers?
He said he realized what was happening when he saw a nearby police officer take cover behind a pillar.
When I saw that, I took cover behind the pillar too, he said.
Contributing: Stan Finger of The Eagle
Old Town assaults
From 2008 through 2011, there were 104 reports of aggravated assaults in and around the Old Town area. Wichita police records show that more than half of them occurred between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Here are the totals:
Source: Wichita Police Department
Old Town crime
Over the past four years, Wichitas Old Town district has averaged about 325 Part 1 crimes a year, most of which involve thefts from parked vehicles. These are the figures:
|Year||Murder||Rape||Robbery||Agg. Assault||Burglary||Theft||Auto theft||Violent crimes||Prop. crimes||All major crimes|
Source: Wichita Police Department