Police: Arrive early, leave early in Old Town

Chance Swaim

From the Nightlife Guide —

It’s closing time in Old Town in downtown Wichita.

Police officers sometimes stand shoulder-to-shoulder under lampposts. Bouncers guard exits as bar-goers hop from place to place. High heels click on brick streets and excited voices shout across parking lots.

Junior Alexandra Crow checks her cell phone while her friends finish paying their tabs at a local bar.

“I’m not afraid,” Crow said.

But that hasn’t stopped her from waiting near police officers in Old Town or finding a quick escape route out if someone decides to start a fight or a shooting breaks out, and to avoid being hit on.  

“There is always a risk,” Crow said. “My boyfriend’s friend, Kolby, got killed here. And he wasn’t even involved in the fight that was going on at the time.”

Violence in Old Town reached a critical point two years ago when a gunman opened fire into a crowd of people gathered in a parking lot after the clubs closed, wounding six people and killing 25-year-old Kolby Hopkins.

This, and other crimes involving large groups congregating in the area after closing time, prompted a change in city ordinances.

“It’s calmed down ridiculously in the last year or so,” said bartender Wesley Wallace, who’s worked in Old Town for four years.

Wichita Police now usher people out of the area in a quick and safe manner after the bars close, Wallace said.

“They keep people down here really safe now, and I think they do a hell of a job,” he said.

Wallace said he thinks the drop in crime can be attributed, at least partially, to the new group of people who come to Old Town.

“The same people from [ages] 21 to 24 aren’t the same people from three years ago,” he said. “Different generations are different. People get burnt out and a new group of people comes in.”

In May 2014, Wichita City Council voted unanimously to classify Old Town as an entertainment district, which allowed a first-time offense for loitering to carry a $500 fine. A second violation would double the fine to $1,000 and carry a sentence of up to six months in jail. It would also allow judges to ban repeat offenders from Old Town, prohibiting them from entering the district.

According to the ordinance, the boundaries of Old Town are Central Avenue North, Douglas Avenue South, Wabash Avenue East and St. Francis Street West.

The bars and clubs in Old Town stagger their last call times so not everyone leaves at the same time, Wallace said.

Wichita Police Lt. James Espinoza said students who want to be safe and avoid trouble in Old Town should make sure they are of legal age (no fake identification), do not drink and drive, do not bring alcohol into Old Town or drink it in the parking lot, do not urinate in public (use the facilities provided) and do not loiter.

“This is for your safety,” Espinoza said. “Go straight to your car and leave.”

To avoid most problems on weekends in Old Town, Wallace suggested patrons arrive before 10 p.m. to find parking as close to their destination as possible, and leave a little early to avoid the crowd.

“If you don’t drive, be sure you know how you’re getting home before you leave,” Wallace said. “Don’t just hang out in the parking lot after closing time. That’s when bad things can happen.”