OKC police may hold solution to violence in Old Town
Oklahoma City police operate under a simple philosophy to keep that city’s entertainment district safe.
“Be there before it happens,” says Lt. Kevin Barnes, with the OKC Bricktown police department.
Behind the scenes:
We got a rare look behind the scenes as the department prepared for a Saturday night.
“Make sure that anyone rolling into Bricktown sees that we're here,” Barnes tells a group of officers as they get a final briefing before heading out on the streets.
Officers, many of them there on a special overtime budget, roll in around 9 p.m. By the time they get there, other officers are armed with information.
Oklahoma City leaders have made Bricktown safety a priority. Money and resources are made available year round.
Unlike Wichita, Bricktown has its own police station with six full time officers. Those officers and supervisors focus solely on Bricktown.
By the time Friday night rolls around, the Bricktown officers already know what to expect. They know which bars are having big events, what type of crowd will be there, and any issues that came up the night or weekend before.
How it works:
Early in the evening, before the crowds are large, Lt. Barnes is out gathering the most important weapon in his arsenal. He’s on the hunt for information.
“Just checking in see if you guys need anything,” says Barnes as he makes one of more than a dozen stops at area bars and clubs.
“What's up man? How's the crowd tonight?” Barnes asks another bar owner.
Barnes and other officers make it a goal to stop by every bar in the district. They get out of their patrol cars and walk the streets. They find an owner or manager, and then spend the time to gather information. By the time the bars close, and that’s when most problems happen, Barnes and his team are in the right spot.
“Even the parking lot attendant can be a good source of information. They let you know who's coming in,” says Barnes.
By 1 a.m., OKC police officers are spread out across the area. Patrol cars are parked in the middle of the road. Officers know where the big crowds are and they are already there.
A city ordinance allows police in OKC to clear out any juveniles by 11 p.m.
Many roads are blocked so cars can only get out of the area. Coming in is not an option.
“The key is to clear the area, and do it quickly,” says Barnes.
Wichita looks to OKC:
Bricktown, although a bit larger, looks a lot like Wichita’s Old Town. It’s so similar Wichita Police say that’s who they’re looking to for advice.
OKC police have also been successful in keeping violent acts to a minimum. There have been few shootings, and one homicide.
“The gun violence is almost nonexistent in Bricktown,” says Barnes.
Chief Norman Williams says his department has talked to OKC, but every city and area is different.
Lt. Barnes agrees—he says just because something works in one city, doesn’t mean will work in another.
Barnes says you have to have city government there to support you and be willing to invest in people and resources. He also says if Wichita needs help, they are more than happy to share information.
Wichita has invested in more resources and even changed ordinances in Old Town to help police clear crowds.
Police have also used short term solutions after a series of shootings last year, and the most recent shooting that killed one person and injured six others.
Perception can as important as anything else in an entertainment district. Crime in Wichita’s Old Town is actually down 30 percent from year to year, but the most recent shooting makes people less likely to go there.
A recent FactFinder 12 Scientific Survey found only 10 percent of Kansans feel very safe in the area. 37 percent says somewhat safe, 27 percent said not very safe, and 16 percent said not safe at all.
Based on the people we talked to in OKC, there is a positive perception of Bricktown.
“It's safe the way I perceive it,” says Trenton Williams who was enjoying a Saturday night in the area.
Everyone we talked to said the same thing.
“We're never fearful. We're fortunate to have it. We're blessed to have it as a city, says Desree Parrack who brought her church youth group to the area.
And bar owners and managers want to keep it that way. They welcome the large police “I have their cell phone numbers they have mine. We don't have any issues,” says Corey Travis, GM of Candy Night Club in Bricktown.