More lighting and security cameras are coming to Old Town as part of a series of measures designed to improve safety around closing times for the bars in Wichita’s popular downtown entertainment district.
Popular Disney tunes and soothing music may be coming, too.
Those are among numerous changes being recommended for clubs in Old Town that will come in the wake of a shooting incident earlier this month that left four people injured, officials said Thursday.
“We’re going to be very direct and decisive on dealing with these serious public safety issues when they come up, and we are committed and determined to maintain and enhance safety in Old Town,” Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said.
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A review of data indicates that crime incidents “are down significantly over the last few years,” Ramsay said.
Though final numbers for 2015 are not yet available, he said, preliminary figures indicate the reduction in crime in Old Town has continued.
The data also showed what Old Town Association president Jason Van Sickle called “a very narrow window” of safety issues in the entertainment district: bar closing time on Friday and Saturday nights.
“Other than that, it’s a great, safe neighborhood for people to be in,” said Van Sickle, who made a point of calling Old Town “one of the crown jewels of Wichita and one of the main catalysts for downtown revitalization.”
City Council member Janet Miller said the changes are not a direct response to four people being shot during a fight that erupted after a concert at the Pandora Night Club, 116 N. Mead, early on the morning of March 5.
“We are not being reactive to that,” Miller said. “We started this second phase of safety planning last summer.”
But Ramsay’s meetings with bar owners, during which he presented more than 20 recommendations to improve safety, did follow the shootings.
“We really had great discussions,” Ramsay said of the Old Town bar owners. “There was no doubt in my mind that the bar owners are sincere and committed to ensuring that we maintain a safe environment there.
“Actually, I think the meetings couldn’t have gone any better.”
Most of the suggestions are pretty basic, Ramsay said, and only one — implementing the use of scanners to identify people entering bars — would have a notable cost. The owners are nonetheless “very interested” in using them, Ramsay said.
“They embraced them,” Ramsay said of the changes.
The scanners would be used to flag people who have been banned from other bars, for example.
Some changes — such as reallocating more officers to Old Town near closing times on Friday and Saturday nights — have already been implemented.
Other suggestions remain recommendations at this point. They include:
▪ Utilizing a dress code, such as banning sagging pants and clothing that is all the same color.
▪ Rejecting any unofficial, expired, cut, defaced or temporary identification cards.
▪ Installing cameras at the entry and exit points of any door, and having employees monitor what is occurring live.
▪ Banning loitering near the bars.
▪ Considering playing soothing music at closing time — such as Disney tunes or smooth, slow music.
City officials are looking at a change in policy that would allow off-duty police officers to provide security at Old Town bars, which is currently prohibited, Mayor Jeff Longwell said. Other ordinance changes may also be necessary.
That will take time to review, Longwell said, and will require City Council approval. But he vowed the process will not be glacial in movement.
“It will be coming forward very, very quickly,” Longwell said. “We’re really talking at this point weeks, not months.”
No cost estimates for implementation and for ongoing operations have been set yet, he said, though “we’re very, very close” to having numbers.
While Old Town businesses helped pay for new security cameras atop buildings next to high-traffic areas a few years ago, Longwell said officials are looking for ways to finance additional cameras in the city’s budget.
Van Sickle said he has been impressed with how police have responded in the weeks since the shooting incident outside Pandora.
“The level of response and commitment that we’ve gotten from them is extraordinary,” Van Sickle said. “They’ve been incredible to work with.”