Crime & Courts

Police seek answers, reversal as aggravated assaults surge

Wichita has seen aggravated assault cases jump more than 50 percent since 2013, before the new “open carry” gun law took effect.
Wichita has seen aggravated assault cases jump more than 50 percent since 2013, before the new “open carry” gun law took effect. File photo

Aggravated assaults involving guns have soared in Wichita since a state law took effect in 2014 allowing people who can legally possess a gun to have it within reach as they are walking or driving, authorities said.

Wichita has seen aggravated assault cases jump more than 50 percent since 2013, before the new “open carry” law took effect. Data provided by the city of Wichita indicates there were 1,443 aggravated assaults in 2013 and 2,193 in 2016. Not all of the assaults involved guns.

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Road rage cases in Wichita are increasingly including the use of a gun, police officials say.

There were 121 aggravated assaults involving a firearm during a road rage incident last year — an average of 10 a month, Lt. Jeff Gilmore said.

People used to raise their finger and shake it at the other driver. Now they’re raising a handgun.

Lt. Jeff Gilmore

“I get cases every week: Someone’s driving down the street and there’s an incident of road rage,” Gilmore said. “People used to raise their finger and shake it at the other driver. Now they’re raising a handgun.”

The surge in gun crimes doesn’t have police officials calling for a repeal of the open carry law. Part of the explanation, Gilmore said, is a lack of education.

“The bottom line is we have got law-abiding citizens who have never owned a firearm before, that haven’t been properly trained, never been to a shooting range, never taken a class, but they think, ‘Gosh darn it, I can carry a firearm and I’m going to do it,’ ” Gilmore said. “I absolutely respect that, and I understand.”

Crime increases are widespread, statistics show. The 2016 totals climbed in 11 of the 12 categories that incorporated aggravated assault or aggravated battery.

Aggravated assault is serious bodily injury to another person purposely or recklessly, while aggravated battery involves intentionally touching or striking another person and intentionally or knowingly causing great bodily harm, permanent disability or permanent disfigurement .

For most of the categories, the jump was dramatic. Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said he plans to request a “deep dive” into the statistics, to see what’s driving the exponential increases across the board.

“I don’t have all the answers as to why,” Ramsay said. “We’re seeing this trend happening before our eyes right now.”

Drive-bys in which firearms were used leaped 50 percent. The number of aggravated assaults in which shots were fired increased by nearly 50 percent.

For longtime gun rights advocate Phil Journey, the fact that increases occurred in virtually every category shows the blame can’t be placed on the open carry law.

“It’s more about people and the choices they’re making,” said Journey, a, former legislator and now a Sedgwick County District Court judge. “They succumb to their anger and do something rash.”

‘Fingerprints for a gun’

Whatever is driving the increases, Ramsay said, “we’ve got to turn these numbers around.”

He wants to do it with the help of technology, such as ballistic testing and gun tracing.

Shell casings “are like fingerprints for a gun,” Ramsay said, so it makes sense to try to connect specific weapons to shootings.

“It will help us tie crimes together and be more effective in dealing with our habitual offenders and those that are using guns to terrorize neighborhoods and people,” Ramsay said.

Wichita police had the technology back in 2013. But they didn’t use it, Ramsay said, so the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reallocated it.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation has now agreed to conduct tests and tracing on shell casings and guns submitted by Wichita police, Ramsay said.

“I know other cities are having tremendous success with it,” he said.

Ramsay said he also wants to add a device known as a “Shot Spotter” to the department’s tool box.

The surveillance technology uses audio sensors that are capable of detecting gunfire and can triangulate where the shot occurred within 50 feet, he said. It can also detect shots fired out of a window, calculate the speed of the vehicle involved and differentiate who fired first if people are shooting at each other.

The sensors can be linked to license plate readers and camera systems that will immediately turn the cameras in the direction of shots fired, Ramsay said.

“It’s a force multiplier for police,” he said.

But it’s not cheap. Ramsay said he hopes to find about $190,000 in grant money to finance the use of the sensors in a geographic area spanning a few miles.

It’s not clear yet where the technology would be deployed, Deputy Chief Troy Livingston said.

“Before implementing Shot Spotter, we would do a comprehensive analysis of crime that involved shots fired and then place those sensors accordingly,” Livingston said.

While that technology is expensive, Ramsay said, “What does the violence cost us in terms of property values, life lost, neighborhood safety concerns?

“It is incredible technology and it reduces crime. It reduces shootings and saves lives.”

People used to raise their finger and shake it at the other driver. Now they’re raising a handgun.

Lt. Jeff Gilmore

Training is key

Gilmore said he wants new gun owners to be responsible and “to understand how permanent it is when you pull a gun out. When you pull that trigger, you can’t take that back.”

People need to understand what the laws are, what “deadly force” and “the use of deadly force” means, he said.

I think a large percentage don’t understand that just picking up a gun and displaying it is a crime.

Lt. Jeff Gilmore

“I think a large percentage don’t understand that just picking up a gun and displaying it is a crime,” Gilmore said.

Instruction is a key component to reducing the numbers of aggravated assaults involving weapons, Ramsay and others said.

“We advocate training,” said Ken Grommet, one of the owners of Range 54, a gun range at 5725 E. Kellogg Drive. “Whether you train here or somewhere else, train.

“There’s a lot of good training and good trainers in town.”

When people misuse their weapons, especially habitual offenders, the message needs to be loud and clear. … There is one big price to pay, and not a slap on the wrist.

Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay

Ramsay said he’d like tougher laws in place as well.

“Our laws on prohibited people in possession could be strengthened,” Ramsay said. “When people misuse their weapons, especially habitual offenders, the message needs to be loud and clear … there is one big price to pay, and not a slap on the wrist.”

Aggravated assaults 2013 to 2016

Data provided by the Wichita Police Department shows aggravated assaults are up across the board, whether they involve guns or not.

▪ Aggravated battery cases involving firearms climbed 55 percent between 2013 and 2016, to 85.

▪ Domestic violence cases including aggravated assault jumped 58 percent in the same period, to 317.

▪ Aggravated battery cases in domestic violence incidents soared 116 percent, to 447.

▪ Aggravated assault drive-bys went from 28 in 2013 to 69 in 2016.

▪ And cases where shots were fired during an aggravated assault have increased from 72 in 2013 to 135 in 2016 — a leap of 88 percent.

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