Crime & Courts

Report offers more safety measures for Wichita’s Old Town district

The Old Town district in Wichita
The Old Town district in Wichita File photo

Old Town patrons could see a variety of new safety measures in place by the end of May, city officials said Thursday.

Off-duty police officers can now be hired by nightclubs to provide security in the popular downtown entertainment district, and patrons can expect to occasionally see Wichita Fire Department crews when staffing allows.

A committee forwarded 14 recommendations in the wake of a shooting incident in early March that left four people injured. They include more lighting and security cameras, instituting traffic control measures, ordinance changes and increasing licensing requirements.

“Everything is moving forward,” said Denise Peters, a project manager in City Manager Robert Layton’s office, who helped draft the report on the recommendations.

Crime data shows that incidents in Old Town have decreased significantly since 2012, Mayor Jeff Longwell said. The report’s recommendations target peak patron volume between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

“Large milling crowds” reaching 2,000 people at times “and cruising traffic at closing causes concern for safety,” a report made public by the city Thursday said. “There are areas of darkness which invite criminal activity.”

Police officers are outnumbered 50 to 1 at times, the report states, meaning “simply arresting people is not a feasible solution to crowd problems.”

“There are not enough clubs taking responsibility for the crowd problems they create,” the report states. “There is a sense of overcrowding, however, there is no way to verify occupancy compliance.”

In 2014, an average of three supervisors and 11 officers were deployed in Old Town between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, according to the report. The annual estimated cost of that increased law enforcement presence is $200,000, and the shift in resources “results in a significant increase in response times in other areas of the city.”

Police Chief Gordon Ramsay offered 21 recommendations last month after meeting with owners of Old Town establishments. City officials said the 14 included in the committee’s report condensed multiple suggestions.

The recommendations have two goals, according to the report: Maintain or improve the current safety level and reduce the number of officers required to close the Old Town Entertainment District on Fridays and Saturdays.

The recommendations include changes in the ordinance regulating entertainment establishments and passing a “nuisance event” ordinance that allows the city to charge for police services for an event requiring special security assignments.

Those steps require City Council approval.

One recommendation would require Old Town nightclubs that can house at least 200 people to obtain a “super license” that requires several steps, including the purchase and use of an ID scanner that can scan driver’s licenses and tag any patron that has a history of causing problems.

Other steps required by the “super license” include notifying police of special events, restricting club entrance after midnight to people 21 and older and playing special closing time music.

“Summer is typically the peak season for night life” in Wichita, Peters said, which is why officials want as many of the recommendations implemented by the end of May as possible.

Some measures, such as the added lighting and security cameras, will take longer to implement, Peters said. The cost of purchasing and installing the lighting and cameras will be split in some way between the city and Old Town businesses and could reach $500,000, she said.

The seven-page report can be viewed at http://bit.ly/23IRrtn.

Stan Finger: 316-268-6437, @StanFinger

Key Old Town security recommendations

▪ Partner with the Wichita Fire Department to have firefighters in Old Town when staffing permits; change the fire code to institute a minimum mandatory fine for capacity violations.

▪ Institute a training program similar to New York, which includes SafeBar training and a certificate of compliance that can be put on display.

▪ Implement traffic control measures.

▪ Streamline citation process because current system is cumbersome and takes too long.

▪ Allow private clubs to hire off-duty officers to work the front door. Currently, off-duty officers can be hired to patrol parking lots.

▪ Create a “super” entertainment license for Old Town nightclubs with capacities of 200 or more patrons. This would include use of an ID scanner to alert clubs to patrons with a history of disruptive behavior, posting signs to inform patrons of applicable ordinances related to code of conduct and clearing the premises at closing, notifying police when special events are scheduled, and SafeBar training attendance for all employees.

▪ Require contributions to a security fund to be used to increase the security of Old Town.

▪ Look into requiring nightclubs to hire off-duty officers to work the front door based on total cumulative number of patrons per premise.

▪ Enforce license suspension/revocation regulations and monitor occupancy via soft counts as patrons leave nightclubs.

Source: City of Wichita

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