Overnight Friday there was no apparent increase in officers patrolling Old Town, Wichita’s downtown entertainment district. But police were expected to step up their presence on Saturday evening, in light of a fatal shooting that happened just a week ago.
“Special community action teams … officers called in off duty,” Sgt. Drew Seiler said, listing some of the added security measures planned for the following night’s bar crowd as he stood amid clubs shutting down early Saturday morning. Within 24 hours, police would be out in force, attempting to keep people safe into the late night hours on the district’s busiest night of the week.
“Usually our presence here is dictated by 911 calls,” he said of Old Town.
But Saturday night, “the police presence will be more structured.”
A renewed outcry for added security in Old Town – including a heftier showing by police – was prompted this week by the Sept. 22 death of Kolby Hopkins, who suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head when someone opened fire near Douglas and Mead around 2 a.m. Six other people – ranging in age from 25 to 35 – were also shot but are expected to recover.
Police this week continued to ask witnesses to turn over cellphone video and photos to help identify the shooter. As of Friday, the case remained open.
Authorities say Saturday nights can get rowdy and rough in Old Town as hundreds flock to the bars and clubs. Most of the violence happens around 2 a.m., when the businesses shut down and crowds spill into the streets.
“So many people are out in the middle of the street,” Seiler said. “It causes a traffic hazard.”
Fights also start, he added. And that can get dangerous.
“Crimes of passion are hard to predict. … You get people down here with alcohol, and mixed with the environment, it’s hard to know what will happen.”
But on Friday nights, the crowds in Old Town are usually a little lighter. Generally, Seiler said, they’re a little calmer, too.
By 11:30 p.m. Friday, a smattering of parking stalls near the Old Town bars remained empty. A few couples lounged on benches or strolled hand-in-hand down the brick streets. Occasionally a pair or trio of young, laughing 20-somethings trotted toward a club where bouncers guarded the entrance.
Early, no overt police presence could be seen.
But when a fistfight spilled onto Rock Island north of Douglas about 20 minutes before 2 a.m., three Wichita police officers responded. They were preparing to monitor people leaving a nearby sports bar, Seiler said.
“Someone flagged us down.”
A short time later, Wichita police Officer Heather Huhman urged a group of men gathered around a parked car on the southernmost border of Old Town to head home.
“Everybody’s got sober drivers. Let’s go home, guys,” she said. “Sober drivers. Seat belts. Let’s go home.”
Officer Christopher Chrisman was more stern.
“Get in your car and leave or you will go to jail,” he told several small groups stumbling through a parking lot.
Meanwhile, one block west of the brawl, a few bargoers shuffled by the parking lot in the area where Kolby Hopkins was shot. On Friday, it was quiet.
Around a light pole, a group of candles, silk flowers and stuffed bears formed a memorial. They lay beneath a bright red sign that read, “Love You Kolby.”
Seiler said police would continue to search Old Town for clues in the case.
“We’re looking for any additional evidence or witnesses,” he said early Saturday, “that might want to step forward.”