Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation
BCJI Funding Year: FY2020
BCJI Awardee: City of Wichita Housing and Community Service Department
Research Partner: Newman University
Focus Area: Downtown Wichita - Population 1,393
Challenges: Violent Crime, Drug-Related Crime, Vagrancy Crime Related to Homelessness
The City of Wichita has encouraged and nurtured the development of the Entertainment Old Town District (OTD), which is within the defined boundaries for Project HOPE, where citizens can gather for dining and entertainment, socialize, and conduct business. The median household income is $25,545 and school performance is ranked as poor. The target area lies within census tract 0043.00, which has a high poverty rate of 31.6 percent. The area has seen substantial growth in business, visitation, tourism, and new residential development. With this growth, the area has experienced a rise in criminal activity, including violent crimes involving firearms.
There has also been an increase in mental crises over the last 10 years in Wichita. With gaps in the mental health system, Wichita Police Department (WPD) officers, particularly the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), have struggled to address gaps in the mental healthcare system, and WPD continues to be relied upon by the community as the primary responders to a mental health crisis. Additionally, with the ongoing national conversation on controversial police-related shootings and a growing focus on how police address calls for service involving mental health, police officers in the WPD are feeling increased scrutiny coupled with decreasing community trust.
Three of the seven shelters in Wichita that serve persons experiencing homelessness are located in the downtown target area, which are the Wichita Family Crisis Center, St. Anthony Family Shelter, and United Methodist Open Door. In 2019, there were 570 homeless-related emergency calls in the target area. Compared to other areas of Wichita, the OTD’s call volume is especially high in this 1.5 square mile area. Residents and businesses in the target area report frustrations towards the unhoused population related to physical fighting, using and selling drugs, panhandling, and other vagrant crimes. Additionally, the Wichita Work Release Facility is also located in the downtown target area, which is where parolees are released.
The OTD has a long-standing reputation for violent crime, prostitution, drug offenses, and violent gang activity. This area of Wichita is also well-known for its unhoused population, state-ordered placement of parolees, and services for those affected by mental illness. The high concentration of these populations frequenting the Broadway Corridor have become prey for the criminal element, which is constantly present in this area of Wichita.
Crime statistics in the target neighborhood reveal a mix of violent crimes, drug offenses, and vagrancy activity. The statistics also show that the target neighborhood has significantly higher Part I and Part II violent crimes and calls for service related to unhoused individuals than other areas of Wichita, even areas adjacent and similar to the target neighborhood.
The City of Wichita has determined that the presence of any individuals loitering in public places and committing violent crimes within the OTD contribute significantly to this unacceptable situation while creating a justifiable fear for the safety of patrons and property in the area. The city has an important governmental interest in protecting the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens, businesses, and tourists. This obligation includes protecting citizens from increased crime and preserving the quality of life, property values, business investments, and the character of the OTD, as well as deterring the spread of blight.
The WPD partnered with Wichita Fire Department, Public Works Department, Housing Authority, traffic engineers, area businesses, community organizations, residents, and business professionals including property owners, and management teams to develop a solution to reduce crime in the OTD.
The goal of Project HOPE is to reduce violent, drug-related, and vagrant crime related to homelessness. The project will address the following items during the Planning Phase:
- Hire a project coordinator and caseworkers.
- Work with Newman University and the WPD to conduct business and resident surveys, as well as analyze the crime data in the designated area. Surveys will help engage partners and businesses in the community to build trust and work towards implementing a design that reduces the unhoused population and crime in the area during the Implementation Phase.
- Meet with the WPD Project Safe Neighborhood team during the Planning Phase to conduct a viable plan to work alongside each other to reduce violent crime.
- Engage in outreach meetings with different groups such as businesses, residents, and the unhoused population. These meetings will help determine their roles in a partnership with Project HOPE. A community activity such as a cookout or block party during the Planning Phase will help bring the community together to better understand who resides in the area and how they can continue to produce change, positivity, and engagement.
- The Housing and Community Service Department will conduct stakeholder meetings and hire a grant coordinator to manage and lead day-to-day activities during the Implementation Phase.
Other Key Partners
City of Wichita, Wichita Development Corporation, Greater Wichita Partnership, Wichita Police Department, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Project Safe Neighborhood, Project Guardian, Community Engagement Academy, Wichita Housing Authority, Workforce Alliance, Impact ICT
This project is supported by Cooperative Agreement No. 2018-BJ-BX-K035 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions contained herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. References to specific agencies, companies, products, or services should not be considered an endorsement by the author(s) or the U.S. Department of Justice. Rather, the references are illustrations to supplement discussion of the issues.