Since the Lord's Diner opened in downtown Wichita in 2002, the surrounding area has seen a slight increase in crime as the crime rate citywide has dropped.
The diner's proposed satellite location in a vacant building at 21st Street and Grove has less crime than the downtown site, but an analysis of 911 calls shows that both sites are in areas of high police activity.
The crime data and interviews with Wichita police officials offer no evidence that opening a satellite diner at 21st and Grove would result in a crime wave in the area.
"Do I think it's going to increase the drug and gang activity?" asked Capt. Jeff Easter, who is head of the Police Department's north bureau. "No."
That may allay some of the fears that a diner for people in need would drive up crime.
But many people in the neighborhoods around 21st and Grove remain opposed to it. They worry it would be a step backward in a long fight to improve the area.
They plan to offer alternatives before Wichita City Council members have a public hearing on Nov. 17. But they aren't ready to disclose their plans yet.
Kevin Myles, president of the Wichita Branch NAACP, said he and others in central-northeast Wichita watched and listened when community opposition drove the city to tear an eyesore blue roof from a city pumping station at 21st and Webb in 2005, block a proposed Walmart at Kellogg and Oliver in 2007, and draw up new rules on where to place cell phone towers in 2008.
He expects the council to likewise be moved by neighborhood groups near 21st and Grove.
"That this issue should go forward regardless of the opinion of these residents, we feel that is unfair," he said.
Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, said neighborhood leaders don't oppose the idea of feeding the hungry — just not at that location.
"It's just disappointing to those of us in this community," she said. "We fought for years trying to get 21st Street revitalized."
The city has poured millions into repaving streets and adding sidewalks in that area. It plans to add a bike path soon.
While the area has attracted a few new businesses, neighborhood leaders hope for more and think the diner might scare some businesses away.
"We're almost done with 21st Street except attracting businesses," council member Lavonta Williams said.
She remains opposed and hopes to find an alternative.
The diner picked the 21st and Grove location after commissioning a study that showed that central-northeast Wichita had some of the city's highest densities of people with very low incomes, children receiving free or reduced-price lunches at school, and people who dropped out of high school.
All are common factors among people who can't afford meals.
Wendy Glick, executive director of the diner, said the diner hoped to find a location farther south than 21st Street but couldn't locate a suitable building.
The former Boys & Girls Club at 21st and Grove is ideal because it is large enough and has an suitable electrical system, she said. The city has owned the vacant building since the Boys & Girls Club moved to its new location about two years ago.
Glick said the diner is open to other locations. But as more people lose their jobs because of the dire economy, time is of the essence, she said.
The diner served an average of 475 people each night during the summer, when service usually increases because children aren't in school. It averaged 423 in October.
"We're pretty anxious to get going," she said.
Glick said the diner would involve neighbors in crafting policies, security plans and renovations to the building's exterior.
She said patrons would be able to wait in line inside the building and that the diner would work with police to stop people from loitering on the property.
The satellite location would likely mostly serve families since most people who are single and homeless tend to spend their days downtown where mental-health and homeless services exist — though many return to the Union Rescue Mission at 2800 N. Hillside to sleep.
But Glick said the diner would keep its ''no questions asked'' policy.
Last Thursday, a few people were already gathering at the church across the street from the Lord's Diner at 4 p.m. —1 1/2 hours before its doors open for its 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. meal.
It wasn't until about 5 p.m. that people began congregating at the diner itself. The line quickly grew.
Jerry, a 54-year-old man who recently lost his job selling hardware, said he drives to the diner each night from 31st South and Hillside. If he didn't have a vehicle, he said, he doesn't know what he'd do.
He thinks a satellite location would be wise, even if he wouldn't use it.
"It's a lot easier to come to this one for me," he said. "But there's probably a lot of people up there that can't get out."
A 47-year-old man who didn't want to give his name said he's been coming to the diner for about a month. He's spent a lot of time in the 21st and Grove area and said it would be a good location.
"I think it would get used a lot," he said.
A 54-year-old man who also declined to give his name said the satellite location is needed. But he said he understands why some neighbors might not want it next to them.
"They're going to complain no matter where you put it," he said.
Question of crime
For crime reporting purposes, Wichita police divide the city into more than 400 neighborhood crime reporting zones, most a quarter-square-mile in size. The Lord's Diner, 520 N. Broadway, is in Zone 6, which runs from Central and Broadway northeast to Ninth and Washington.
Police records show the crime rate rose in that zone after the diner opened in February 2002.
In the four years before the opening — 1998 through 2001 — the zone averaged 163 major crimes a year. On average, it recorded two rapes a year, 11 robberies, 13 aggravated assaults, 27 burglaries, 97 thefts and 13 auto thefts.
Over the past four years —2005 through 2008 — the area averaged 176 major crimes a year. That included four rapes, nine robberies, 17 aggravated assaults, 20 burglaries, 109 thefts and 16 auto thefts.
The 8 percent increase in crime over those periods occurred when crime in the city as a whole was dropping 2.4 percent.
There were no homicides in the zone from 1998 through 2001. There were three from 2005 through 2008, though none was directly related to the diner.
The Boys & Girls Club building is in Zone 23, which showed a slight decrease in crime — from 113 a year to 110 a year — in the same period.
Crime reports normally don't list specific addresses, but Wichita police records show that 56 major and minor crimes were reported in the 500 block of North Broadway last year.
The crimes included 18 batteries, 12 thefts, six trespasses, five aggravated batteries, five vandalisms, two burglaries, two auto thefts, one rape and one drive-by shooting with an air gun.
By comparison, only nine major and minor crimes were reported last year in the 2400 block of East 21st, the location of the old Boys & Girls Club. There were four thefts in that block, two check violations, one aggravated battery, one vandalism and one disorderly conduct report.
Another measure of criminal activity can be found in emergency communications records, which show that the Lord's Diner is in an area of high police activity.
From October 2008 through September 2009, those records show, 911 dispatchers handled 175 calls at addresses within 500 feet of Central and Broadway, where the diner is located.
There were, by comparison, 252 calls within 500 feet of 21st and Grove, where the former Boys & Girls Club is located.
The figures don't include traffic accidents, traffic stops, 911 hang-up calls, lost property calls or other police activity monitored by dispatchers that is not directly related to crime.
Of the 175 calls at Central and Broadway, 33 were at the diner.
Those calls included 13 disturbance reports, eight suspicious character calls, four theft reports, and three disturbance with weapons calls.
Eight of the 33 calls at the diner occurred between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., the hours the diner is open.
By comparison, police during that same time period handled 17 calls at the Inter-Faith Inn homeless shelter at 320 E. Central, around the corner from the diner. There were seven calls at the First Presbyterian Church at 525 N. Broadway, across the street from the diner.
In the same general area, the QuikTrip at 730 N. Broadway generated 71 calls over the 12-month period. The Legacy Apartments in the 400 block of North Topeka generated 54 calls, while the Commodore Apartments at 222 E. Elm, recorded 25.
There were 18 calls at the Central Branch YMCA at 402 N. Market.