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Total police camera coverage approved for Old Town

Jeff Yocky says he likes living in the Rumley apartments in Old Town and supports a police plan to have surveillance camera coverage over the district for security.
Jeff Yocky says he likes living in the Rumley apartments in Old Town and supports a police plan to have surveillance camera coverage over the district for security. The Wichita Eagle

Nemmy Matiru says he’ll feel better about coming to work in Old Town once police have full security camera coverage of the popular – but historically crime-plagued – hipster business district.

“I think it’s a good idea because I think there’s a lot of activity here, especially over the weekend,” said Matiru, an accountant with the Sullivan, Higdon & Sink marketing and advertising firm. “We’ve had issues even right outside our building here, where things have happened and we don’t know who did it. On the alley back there, we come to the office Monday morning and we find human waste right at our door or broken bottles right out of our door.”

On the alley back there, we come to the office Monday morning and we find human waste right at our door or broken bottles right out of our door.

Nemmy Matiru, accountant

Starting this summer, that bottle breaking and public, er, dumping is likely to be captured live on video.

In high definition.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved a $618,000 contract with Sandifer Engineering and Controls to install a wireless security camera system that will record almost everything that happens on the streets of Old Town.

Police officers at City Hall will monitor the video feeds live to watch for crimes in progress and direct street officers to the scenes, officials said.

“If we see a crime is committed, we can act on it quickly,” said Larry Carlson, community policing officer for the Old Town area.

Cameras should cut response time dramatically because now, it takes as much as five minutes for a person to call 911 and a dispatcher to take down the information and send an officer to the scene, said Deputy Police Chief Jose Salcido.

The faster response time means police will be able to catch more car burglars in the act, or get to a budding disturbance in time to tamp it down before it gets out of hand, police said.

Also, having video of crimes as they’re being committed will mean more “slam dunk prosecutions” for the city attorney’s office, Carlson said.

There are now five cameras in Old Town, but it hasn’t made sense to have an officer monitor them in real time because the coverage is limited and the video quality is poor, Salcido said.

The new system will have about 70 cameras generating crystal-clear imagery, covering almost all the outdoor spaces in Old Town, he said.

The Old Town Association supports the program, but is not providing any funding for it, officials said.

The system can expand beyond Old Town to also serve private businesses that want to install cameras and contract with the city to monitor them. United Methodist Open Door, a charity serving the city’s poor and homeless populations, is expected to be the first to sign up for the expanded security system, Salcido said.

Jeff Yocky, who lives in the Rumley apartments in Old Town, said he doesn’t mind living under camera coverage and thinks the system will be “good for security reasons.”

He said his building is more family-oriented than the typical singles apartments in Old Town and he hasn’t seen much theft in the immediate area.

But he said minor problems are common on the weekends.

“You have a lot of the partiers, that’s for sure,” he said. “Broken beer bottles, banging things, breaking stuff. … We do have a lot of homeless, but they don’t really bother us that much.”

Wichita police officers, including some on horses, keep watch over the crowds during closing time in Old Town. (Video by Oliver Morrison/The WIchita Eagle/May 7, 2016)

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