Wichita police have embraced a new perspective on this year's River Festival — one from 24 stories up. A festival command post has been overseeing festival activities from the 24th floor of the old Holiday Inn hotel, which is now the Garvey Center.
"It's a great observation point to see the big picture of the entire Riverfest," Sgt. Kelly O'Brien said. "It's been a good fit."
For many years, Wichita police had utilized a command van and space at the Broadview Hotel to oversee festival security. But the Broadview is undergoing renovation, and police officials did not want to operate a command post in a construction area.
After checking on four potential locations for a new command post site, O'Brien said, the 24th floor proved to be the best option.
Having a bird's-eye view of the festival has proven helpful in a number of ways, he said.
"It really cuts down on the response time," he said, whether it's guiding EMS to someone experiencing medical distress or sending officers to a growing crowd that could escalate into conflict.
"From up there, I can not only monitor the crowd, but also the officers," O'Brien said. "I can reallocate the resources to where they're needed the most."
Festival officials are also happy with how the new command post has operated.
"From our perspective, it's worked great," festival president Janet Wright said. "It's been very helpful."
The command post features the gear an officer would have in a patrol car — including a radio and laptop computer — as well as space for Sedgwick County Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Services.
Emergency Management provides video equipment to monitor locations not visible from the lofty perch, O'Brien said.
With most festival activities planned around Century II, "we can see pretty much everything," said Capt. Max Tenbrook, of the department's special operations section.
"If there's a child lost at the food court, we can see it," he said. "If there's a report of a disturbance on the (Douglas Avenue) bridge, we can look over and see that."
Through Thursday, there had been only 15 arrests linked to the festival, he said. Police are happy with that statistic, considering the number of people who typically attend festival events.
Festival officials hired off-duty police officers to provide security along with the mounted unit. The bomb squad and SWAT teams are available as well, Tenbrook said.
"We don't take any officers off the street" to handle festival security, he said. "It's important for people to know that."
But on-duty officers can be sent to a festival event if circumstances warrant, O'Brien said.