The gunfire heard in Old Town the past four weekends merits official concern and a visible response, especially because the shots fired early Sunday narrowly missed police officers. That said, the public shouldn’t overreact to a problem mostly associated with bar-closing time – and one that police already are targeting.
In addition to more gunshots, which reportedly struck cars but caused no injuries, last weekend’s incidents included several fights and the explosion of a commercial-grade firework, according to police. Other shootings over the past month have stemmed from a dispute over a woman, involved a claim of self-defense and been committed by people who were carrying firearms unlawfully, according to police. And in March police shot and killed a 23-year-old man in Old Town after he reportedly opened fire on a crowd, in one of several local police-involved shootings that inspired family members’ impassioned pleas for answers Tuesday at the Wichita City Council meeting.
An Eagle article before the fourth recent incident of gunfire outlined how the Wichita Police Department has been supplementing the beat officers with as many as a dozen officers on certain nights. The more nights that police can manage the cost and logistics of such a high-visibility operation, the better. A police presence that can’t be missed would seem a powerful deterrent to bad behavior.
To their credit, Wichita officials also have looked to Oklahoma City’s Bricktown, Omaha’s Old Market and the Kansas City Power and Light District for security ideas, as well as conferred with Old Town club owners and sought other answers related to lighting, infrastructure and more. And as it is, police have said the crime rate in Old Town compares favorably with other parts of town.
What Old Town is seeing is an unintended consequence of its success, of course, as the rehabbed warehouse district draws more young people after dark to its music venues, restaurants, movie theater and outdoor gathering spaces. The troublemakers are following the crowd.
But each incident can’t help but raise questions for some about Old Town’s security, putting at risk the viability of an entertainment district key to the city’s 2-year-old downtown revitalization plan and ability to attract new businesses. Wichita and Sedgwick County have invested more than $30 million in Old Town projects over the past two decades, not counting the county’s $200 million Intrust Bank Arena. They can’t afford for Old Town to be newly viewed as dangerous.
As important as it is to protect Old Town’s reputation, though, what matters most is public safety. The recent gunfire has put both at risk.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman