Crime & Courts

City to put more police on the streets, create new central substation

Wichita’s hitting the gas pedal on a plan to expand the Police Department and create a new bureau to better patrol the burgeoning central area of the city.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved an annual budget that shifts $1 million from a lawsuit liability fund to get the process going.

City Manager Robert Layton said it represents a “heavy emphasis on public safety in our operating budget and CIP.”

CIP stands for Capital Improvement Program, which pays for new construction and remodeling of city facilities.

The start of the plan will be to train, equip and deploy 10 new officers by the end of this year.

The $1 million transfer will pay for the officers’ equipment — estimated about $865,000 — with enough left over to pay the new officers’ salary through the end of December after they graduate from training, Layton said.

Next year, the department will be expanded by an additional 16 personnel for a total of 26 new positions.

Going forward, those additional salaries, benefits and operating expenses will be paid by transferring money that was earmarked for the CIP.

The city has been bringing in more sales tax money than was forecast and can make that transfer without having to drop any programs in the CIP, Layton said.

The increases in staffing will be accompanied by a realigning of the city’s police bureaus.

In addition to the City Hall headquarters, the department now has four outlying geographic patrol bureaus, each with its own station — west, east, north and south.

The boundaries for those patrol areas will change with the creation of a central bureau, but the exact lines haven’t been determined yet, Layton said.

The changes roughly follow the guidelines from a 2017 police staffing study done by an outside consultant.

Instead of a central bureau, that report recommended creation of a special operations bureau, which would have housed new traffic, crime analysis, gang crime and canine units.

But police management felt a need to change the plan because of the increased residential and commercial activity in the downtown and Old Town areas.

“I guess the downside to our success in downtown is we’ve seen a lot more activity, right?” Layton said when he pitched the plan to the council in a budget hearing a week ago.

“We’re seeing a lot more residents, and it’s starting to feel in some ways more like a residential neighborhood with all of the needs of such a neighborhood,” he said. “As a result of that, the department has revisited the police staffing study.”

The central bureau will start out with 18 officers, supervisors and support personnel, he said.

It will be housed in currently vacant space in a city-owned building at 322 N. Riverview.

That building was formerly the office for the city’s Housing Department. But Housing has moved into City Hall and the building is now used by the police traffic enforcement unit.

The vote on changes in the Police Department was part of the City Council’s final approval of the 2020 budget, a roughly $625 million spending plan.

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.