As Sunday morning came down, Lawrence leaders were grappling with why violent crime seemingly is on the rise in the city.
The three shooting deaths that occurred early Sunday morning in downtown Lawrence marked the third, fourth and fifth homicides in Lawrence since Sept. 1. Several city leaders said they don’t have answers right now.
“I don’t know the solutions,” said Mayor Leslie Soden. “I have to hear the details from the people who know them.”
Lawrence’s new chief of police may be one of them. Gregory Burns Jr., who comes to Lawrence after having served as assistant police chief in Louisville, Ky., is scheduled to be sworn into his new position on Monday afternoon. Soden said she wants to discuss with Burns downtown safety and safety around drinking establishments.
It is not known what sparked the downtown shooting, but downtown is the largest bar district in the city, and the shooting occurred at 1:40 a.m., near the time many bars are closing for the night.
The Granada, a popular music venue, is in the block where victims were found. The club at 1020 Massachusetts St. earlier in the evening had hosted a concert featuring popular rap artist Lil Yachty. But Mike Logan, owner of the Granada, told the Journal-World that the show ended at 12:30 a.m. and the Granada closed at 1 a.m.. He said security staff reported there were no unusual incidents during the concert, which required all patrons to be screened with a metal detector wand.
“It is really scary,” Logan said. “It seems like in the last month there has been an incredible amount of gun violence in Lawrence.”
“It is a tough question to answer on an early Sunday morning,” Logan said. “It is hard for me to speak on guns and responsible people. It is just so sad that violence is becoming an easy answer. I don’t have the answer, but I know we have to find one.”
Soden said she has several questions going through her mind. Would more security cameras in downtown Lawrence make sense? Are more police officers needed to walk the downtown streets? Would it be beneficial to security if Massachusetts Street was closed to vehicular traffic on Friday and Saturday nights?
In a tweet late Sunday, police said the incident was not a drive-by shooting, but there had been several unconfirmed reports on social media that it was. Requiring additional security measures in drinking establishments also might be an option, but Soden noted that it wouldn’t solve all issues. The victims in the Sunday morning shooting were shot on public sidewalks. Kansas law allows most people to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.
“This complicates matters that it happened on the street,” Soden said, “especially if it is acceptable to walk around with a gun, according to the state. That is mind-boggling to me. That really doesn’t help matters.”
Burns comes to Lawrence with experience in overseeing a variety of policing efforts. In Louisville, Burns most recently oversaw Support Bureau, which included major crimes, narcotics, community services and special operations divisions.
“Having a big conversation with the new police chief will be important,” Soden said. “But I feel terrible this is the situation he is walking into.”
City Commissioner Mike Amyx, the longest-serving city commissioner and a downtown business owner, agreed that seeking counsel from the city’s new chief would be a good step to take.
But on Sunday morning, Amyx said he still was trying to make sense of what had happened.
“It is terrible,” Amyx said. “The loss of the individuals and the way it happened is just terrible. I think people should be assured that our police department is doing everything it can to ensure safety in the community, and especially in the downtown area right now.
“But once all the information is collected and we know more about what happened, I’m sure a lot of comments can be made about what we ought to do next.”