As the horrific shooting spree early Sunday in Wichita’s Old Town took one young man’s life and injured six others, it renewed worries about the safety of the downtown nightlife district. Officials need to reassess and update their security plan for this important neighborhood.
Arresting the shooter is the essential first step, and those with cellphone video of the shootings should heed Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams’ request that they share it with investigators. (Call 911, Crime Stoppers at 316-267-2111 or the Police Department’s homicide section at 316-268-4181.)
Meanwhile, Old Town business owners, residents and visitors need reassurance from Williams and other city officials that the ambitious promises made after last year’s gunfire incidents and police-involved shooting death have been kept – and that the measures are working as intended. The changes targeted loitering, especially between midnight and 3 a.m., and included plans for more lighting, security cameras and officers.
Most of the 2012 problems occurred a block or so to the northeast of the recent shootings, near the now-closed Doc Howard’s. The security focus obviously needs to follow the crowd, and the cameras’ effectiveness as a deterrent depends on their location and monitoring.
And it was striking to hear Williams say there were 11 police officers in Old Town at the time of the most recent shootings. After a controversial tear-gas incident last November, The Eagle reported that it was “not unusual for as many as two dozen police officers to monitor Old Town on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights – including regular beat officers and off-duty officers hired by the Old Town Association to increase the police presence at closing time.”
City leaders have a public investment to protect in Old Town, which has had the benefit of tens of millions of dollars of public improvements and tax incentives on top of Sedgwick County’s $200 million Intrust Bank Arena. Old Town is far more than a massive, long-running economic development project at this point, though. It’s the cool off-center of the new downtown Wichita, offering places to dine, drink, see a movie, view art, shop, work and, increasingly, live.
It’s unlikely that Old Town will lose its appeal to young people because of the weekend’s violence, especially if they realize that aggravated assaults and most other crime is significantly down in the area when compared with 2012. Plus, the risk seems largely confined to the period just before and after the nightclubs close, making that window of opportunity for trouble something to avoid.
But authorities need to make further securing Old Town a priority – as another family grieves for a loved one tragically lost to senseless violence in our community.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman