Security cameras planned for Old Town

Security cameras are coming to Old Town – the only questions are how soon and how many.

“One way or another, we’re going to see cameras in some capacity – in a fairly short order,” Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said this week.

Wichita’s downtown entertainment district was the site of shooting incidents on four consecutive weekends in August and September. Though no one was injured, the incidents raised questions about how safe Old Town is.

The Old Town Association hired more part-time security and police officials increased the police presence on weekend nights, but Stolz said those are short-term answers.

“There’s a lot of planning and strategizing going on,” he said.

Part of that has been a close look at crime trends in Old Town, which show that crime there is about the same as crime in any other commercial district in the city – except for about six hours a week, Stolz said: 12:30 to 2:30 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

“Everything is fine down in Old Town, except for those six hours a week and the 200 block of Mosley,” Stolz said.

That block is home to Old Town’s largest club, Doc Howard’s, but police officials say the issues have been with crowds mingling after several clubs in the area close. A good start, Stolz said, would be to have cameras on all four corners of that block.

“It’s going to be a cost-benefit thing,” he said. “I’d like to have a camera on every block in Old Town, but that’s not realistic.”

A meeting Friday that included police and city officials and Old Town developer Dave Burk launched the latest attempt to bring cameras to the district. A committee was created to research a wide range of technologies and camera options, as well as the costs involved.

Stolz said he envisions a public-private partnership to pay for the system, including the possibility of applying for grants.

City Council member Lavonta Williams, who attended Friday’s meeting, calls the cameras “a great investment.”

“I think that it will be very worthwhile,” Williams said. “It helps us keep an eye on the situation.”

While a few clubs in Old Town have their own security cameras – including Doc Howard’s – “I think we’re all in agreement that additional video cameras would be very, very good,” Williams said.

Stolz said he would like to see the system utilize portable cameras, so that once crime issues have been resolved in Old Town the cameras could be moved to other parts of the city where crime hotspots blossom – such as auto larcenies in Newmarket Square in northwest Wichita or at Bradley Fair on the east side of town.

No timetable for the installation of the system has been set, but Stolz said he expects it to be “in fairly short order.”

“Nothing curbs outdoor violence like Kansas winters,” Stolz said. “I think it would be a reasonably good goal to have something operational as soon as next spring.”

Williams said she hopes it will be even sooner than that.

“We are going to look at things over the next two months, and we’ll go from there,” she said. “I think everyone is on the same page. We understand that Old Town is still a safe, safe place if we look at the numbers.”

But adding security cameras will not only help law enforcement monitor activity in Old Town, she said, it will send a message to patrons of the district that officials are taking definitive steps to enhance safety there.

Officials have been close to adding security cameras to Old Town before.

Charlie Claycomb, president of the Old Town Association, said authorities were poised to add cameras three years ago by using Tax Increment Financing dollars, only to learn TIF money couldn’t be used for that.

The system under consideration would have cost $60,000 and featured cameras that could read license plates from two blocks away, he said. It was modeled after what is used by the Kansas City Power & Light District – “a real slick system,” Claycomb said.

But when the TIF money vanished as an option,” the whole project kind of went away,” he said.

“We don’t have that kind of money.”

The Old Town Association has a budget of perhaps $10,000 a year that “we bring in and pass out” for various events, he said, such as car shows and chili cook-offs.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” Claycomb said. “We haven’t had any problem catching the people who do these things. There’s police right there.”

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