As he drove through Midtown last week, Officer Bart Norton recalled the days when crime was threatening to overwhelm his North Broadway beat.
"South Broadway always had the moniker, but there was a time that North was just as bad," he said.
The prostitution and drug dealing that had long plagued South Broadway were spreading north across Douglas.
But by focusing on the heart of the problem — the hotels — police and many who live and work in the area think North Broadway may be turning the corner on crime.
In an effort to closely monitor neighborhood crime trends, Wichita police divide the city into 491 crime reporting zones. Two of the three zones that saw the steepest drop in crime last year were along North Broadway in Norton's Beat 41.
A closer look at 2009 figures shows that many neighborhoods near the city's center saw significant decreases in crime last year.
Wichita overall saw a 1.5 percent drop in major crimes last year when compared with 2008. The figures show that the drop occurred because the increases in crime on the fringes of town were more than offset by decreases in the inner city.
* In the 19 crime reporting zones that are within a mile of Douglas and Broadway, crime was down 4.7 percent last year when compared with the average of the previous four years.
* In the 39 zones that are 1 to 2 miles from the city's center, crime was down 5.4 percent.
* On the outskirts of the city, in the 242 zones that are more than 5 miles from Douglas and Broadway, crime was up 11.4 percent.
But the figures also suggest that the bulk of the city's crime is still occurring in and around downtown Wichita.
Those 19 zones in the city's center cover 5.8 square miles — about 3 1/2 percent of the city's area. But they accounted for 11 1/2 percent of the city's auto thefts, 8 1/2 percent of the burglaries, 17 percent of the robberies and 10 1/2 percent of the homicides.
Crime on the move
Deputy Police Chief Terri Moses said it's no secret that crime follows people as they move toward the fringes of town.
"I always point to where I live now" she said of her east Wichita home. "It used to be a wheat field, so the chances of a crime occurring there were null."
As the city grows, she said, police monitor call loads to make sure that officers are allocated to areas where crimes are occurring.
Moses said there were probably several reasons for the sharp drop in crime last year in Beat 41, which covers neighborhoods west of Broadway between Central and 21st Street.
Part of the drop, she said, could be attributed to the construction of the Nomar International Marketplace on West 21st. The project forced the closing or relocation of several businesses, she said, including an adult bookstore that had often been the site of robberies and other crimes.
Construction today has limited access to businesses around 21st and Broadway.
"You couldn't commit a crime at that intersection now," she said.
Moses said that in any part of town, it's important for police to work with residents to fight crime. She said that appears to be happening on North Broadway.
"I would like to think it's a combination of the police as well as the community policing itself," she said.
On patrol on Beat 41
As Norton was starting his day last Wednesday, Ellis Dixon was cleaning up his barbershop. Burglars had broken a window overnight in the business in the 1900 block of West 13th Street and carried out a 42-inch television and other electronic equipment.
That afternoon, Norton was awaiting the results of fingerprint samples that he had sent to the lab. Dixon was making plans to beef up security.
"If I have to put bars up, if I have to put in more security, that's what I'm going to do," he said.
Norton asked anyone with information about the barbershop burglary, or any other crime on his beat, to contact him at the department's Patrol North Bureau.
Norton's beat stretches west from Broadway past North High School to the Arkansas River, but he spends much of his time working with businesses on Broadway. As he drove east from the barber shop, he described the area.
"It's pretty diverse in all aspects — race, income, housing," he said. "We've got some very nice houses, but then we've got some that need a lot of work.
"The majority of people over here go to work and live their lives doing what they're supposed to be doing. But there's a very small percentage..."
When he pulled into the Auto Motel at 1230 N. Broadway, owner Sanjib "Sam" Mitra was remodeling one of the rooms.
Teri Weitzman, the hotel manager, was in the office describing what it was like when she started working there 3 1/2 years ago.
"Every other door was a crack dealer," she said. "There were hookers everywhere."
Today, she said, prostitutes are discreet if they are working in the area. Drug dealers are no longer welcome, she said, and they no longer frequent the hotels.
Norton attributed the change to a crackdown that started more than five years ago after someone opened fire with an AK-47 on a second-floor hotel balcony.
Then in July 2007, a 48-year-old woman who worked as a maid at the Auto Motel was found strangled in her room. The case remains unsolved.
Today, anyone checking into a North Broadway hotel is required to show a photo identification, a copy of which is left at the desk. At the Auto Motel, visitors must leave their names and addresses with the clerk.
Norton said an important part of the crackdown required the help of hotel owners. They were encouraged to report suspicious activity and put unwelcome visitors on a "no-trespassing" list.
For those on the list, merely showing up on the hotel property can result in their arrest.
"If they come on my property, they go to jail," Mitra said.
Norton said the hotels on his beat have dozens of names on their no-trespassing lists.
"We've made lots of arrests, and things have calmed down a little bit," he said.
Norton said he enjoys patrolling Beat 41, an area where he rode his bicycle as a youth. His grandmother still lives on North Fairview, which is in his beat.
He said the diversity of the neighborhood makes his job interesting and enjoyable.
"It's something different every day," he said.