Crime & Courts

930 arrests, 82 gun seizures. That’s the result of targeted crime enforcement in Wichita

Law enforcement involved in a two-month initiative targeting violent crime in Wichita arrested 930 alleged offenders and took 82 guns and more than $835,000 in illegal narcotics off the city’s streets.

The effort, called Operation Triple Beam, comes as Wichita police have sought ways to combat a violent crime rate that has risen steadily since 2014, to about three times the national average and more than three times the state average last year.

The Wichita Police Department worked with the U.S. Marshals Service, federal, state and other local law enforcement officers to nab and jail violent offenders — most on outstanding warrants — in June and July, historically the city’s most violent months, officials said Monday.

Wichita saw a 40% year-over-year drop in shootings during the 60-day enforcement period — 25 compared to 42 during June and July in 2018. It’s the city’s first downturn in shootings in five years, Wichita police Deputy Chief Anna Hatter said.

“It is quite significant. To date the (shooting) numbers are not only below 2018 by almost 30% but are also actually below 2017,” Hatter said, adding that if the downward trend continues, the annual shooting count could fall below 2016’s numbers.

Wichita is one of several cities where the marshals have carried out an Operation Triple Beam enforcement initiative over the past decade, said Ron Miller, U.S. marshal for Kansas. The name refers to the program’s three-pronged approach of apprehending fugitives, proactive street-level enforcement and seizing illegal weapons, drugs and money.

“This is an example of what we can do in law enforcement that collaborates with and involves all three branches of government,” Miller said Monday afternoon during a news conference where the police department, sheriff’s office and other officials touted the program’s successes.

Among those were a total of 556 arrests connected to felony charges and the jailing of 119 gang members. Law enforcement also cleared a total of 747 warrants — about two-thirds linked to misdemeanor crimes — and confiscated $142,526 in cash, a little over 60 pounds of methamphetamine, close to 36 pounds of marijuana, 197 Oxycodone pills, 962 doses of Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (also known as MDMA or Ecstasy), 30 gaming machines, three vehicles and varying amounts of heroin, cocaine, steroids and Xanax.

The police department also has taken other steps — making staffing changes and testing a gunshot detection system in some neighborhoods, among them— that have helped curtail the crime rates so far this year.

“There is no doubt that the dramatic decrease in crime is a direct result of the hard work that was done by all of the partners in this effort,” Wichita police Chief Gordon Ramsay said in a news release Monday morning.

Leading up to the two-month enforcement, Wichita police analyzed violent crime throughout the city and pinpointed several areas referred to as “problem micro-locations” where offenses occurred at a high rate — in some cases a single home or business. Police and other law enforcement officers then got together in small teams and completed tasks, such as watching a home for an offender or finding a wanted person’s whereabouts.

“This initiative was data driven. ... We targeted the most violent offenders in those areas driving crime and the fear of crime in our neighborhoods,” Hatter said.

“The impact was unprecedented.”

Along with police and marshals, the Kansas Department of Corrections, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, the Kansas Highway Patrol, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office, U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also involved.

In addition to making an immediate impact on Wichita’s crime rate, Miller said, the initiative also is a jumping off point for the city into another federal-local law enforcement partnership that authorities have high hopes will continue driving down violence. In September, officials are slated to meet for three days in Memphis, Tennessee, to brainstorm exactly how Wichita police might use the National Public Safety Partnership to better and more efficiently combat violence locally.

Authorities earlier this summer announced that the U.S. Department of Justice had picked Wichita and nine other cities to participate in the 2019 partnership, a highly tailored three-year program that draws on federal resources and training to reduce violent crime in areas where it’s well above national rates.

In launching the partnership last month, officials hinted that the local focus will include crime trend and forensic firearms analyses and police calls involving mentally ill people. In other cities, gang and gun violence are common focal points.

Like Operation Triple Beam, the partnership is another example of pooling resources to better and more efficiently fight crime.

“When we all get together, work together in a collaborative fashion ... you have this kind of response that we got here,” Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Monday, referring to the two-month enforcement.

“This is an example in this community of ... 21st Century law enforcement.”

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.
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