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Wichita council to meet Oct. 9 to consider Old Town crackdown

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Sep. 24, 2012, at 6:26 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.

The Wichita City Council will hold a special meeting Oct. 9 to weigh a crackdown on Old Town patrons, council members confirmed Monday, in what could be a one-day government response to four weekends of shootings in the entertainment district.

That Tuesday, originally an off-date in the schedule so council members could attend the fall Kansas League of Municipalities meeting in Topeka, instead will be devoted to possible ordinance tightening in the wake of the gun violence in Old Town, Vice Mayor Janet Miller said.

Council members will consider revised ordinances drafted by the city’s legal department, hold a public hearing and, if there’s agreement, possibly do a first read of changes cracking down on Old Town loitering and service to 18- through 20-year-old patrons, Miller said.

Mayor Carl Brewer, Miller, council member Lavonta Williams, Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz and several business owners met Friday morning at City Hall to start the process. The downtown entertainment district was the site of shooting incidents on four consecutive weekends this month and in August. Despite an absense of injuries, business people have raised concerns about how safe Old Town is for their patrons.

“Several businesses want to be part of the solution,” Williams said. “We’re likely going to do some things with more surveillance cameras, too, and that’s going to be at the expense of the businesses.”

Loitering will be the main target of the proposed ordinance changes, Williams said.

“If you’re in the parking lot in Old Town, you need to move on. Period. The loitering has to stop,” Williams said.

Charlie Claycomb, president of the Old Town Association, said Williams is right.

“After the bars close and before they close, too,” he said. “We have a problem down here with people hanging around out in front before they close, Doc Howard’s for example.”

Claycomb said he hasn’t seen the proposed ordinance changes, and plans to meet with Miller shortly.

“It’s absolutely a good first step. I haven’t talked to one responsible bar owner who’s opposed to it,” said Bill Warren, who owns the Old Town Warren movie theater. “Ninety-nine percent of the people coming to town are good people who have fun.

“It’s the one percent creating problems, and the idea is to keep them out.”

The council also is likely to restrict the presence of younger patrons in Old Town; some of those involved in the violence have been younger, Williams said.

The proposed ordinance changes include:

• Prohibiting public loitering between midnight and 6 a.m., mirroring the closing hours in the city’s parks and allowing police to disperse club patrons more quickly at closing time. City and Old Town officials said Monday there is no public loitering ordinance in effect to regulate street loitering.

• Changing the entertainment ordinance so cover charges at the door don’t count toward the 30 percent food sales threshold that allows clubs to serve 18- through 20-year old patrons.

“It’s probably too early for most council members to have much of an opinion on the changes, since they haven’t been briefed on them yet. In fact, the legal department hasn’t drafted them yet,” Miller said. “Thus, we’ve also not had any public hearings on them and won’t until Oct. 9.

“However, there is a sense of urgency in moving forward as quickly as possible if there is consensus around the proposed changes once they are drafted and presented.”

Council member Pete Meitzner said he’s not yet sure what the new ordinances would look like. But he said he’s open to the discussion.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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