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How do Lawrence police patrol downtown? In wake of Mass Street killings, department has stepped up patrols; no permanently designated officers

Lawrence police investigate the scene of a shooting incident on Massachusetts Street between 10th and 11th streets that left three people dead and injured others early Sunday morning.

Lawrence police investigate the scene of a shooting incident on Massachusetts Street between 10th and 11th streets that left three people dead and injured others early Sunday morning.

October 29, 2017

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Lawrence police say they’ve stepped up downtown foot patrols in the wake of a shooting that killed three people and injured two others on Massachusetts Street around bar-closing time.

However, the police department does not have permanently designated downtown officers. When it comes to upping Mass Street patrol, Officer Drew Fennelly said, “the only options are to bring someone in on overtime, or pull from other parts of town.”

Since the Oct. 1 homicides, some residents — including city commission candidates at a recent forum — have debated whether police should increase their presence downtown.

Police say they’re open to discussing change but that it’s a matter of resources — both having them, and choosing how best to distribute them.

“The conversation about doing things differently downtown opens up a more far reaching discussion about the staffing levels of our department,” Fennelly said, via email. “We regularly review our patrol resource allocations, and are always looking for ways to improve the way we handle issues as they arise.”

There’s always been a “focus” to have officers downtown during bar hours as available, Fennelly said. Some nights when staffing is higher, officers may be assigned to foot or bike patrol, but that's not typical, he said.

Because of the shooting, he said, police this month have increased foot patrols downtown as manpower allows.

Police also have increased the number of officers downtown when the bars close. However, Fennelly said the department would not share details of those “enforcement tactics” because doing so could compromise their effectiveness.

In this 2013 Journal-World file photo, Lawrence police officers talk with a college student in the 700 block of Massachusetts Street.

In this 2013 Journal-World file photo, Lawrence police officers talk with a college student in the 700 block of Massachusetts Street.

Typically, according to Fennelly, here’s how downtown patrols work now:

• The entire city of Lawrence is divided into four patrol zones, and downtown lies in the northeast quadrant, or “D quad.”

But D quad includes a lot of other real estate, too. It covers roughly everything north of 13th Street, and between Michigan and Connecticut streets — plus all of North Lawrence.

• At any given time, including weekend nights, three to five officers are assigned to patrol each of the city’s four quads.

Generally officers respond to calls for service in their respective quads, but if needed they get dispatched out of their own quads.

“This would normally apply to in progress incidents where there is a danger of someone being injured,” Fennelly said. “Lower priority calls, for instance noise complaints, or criminal damage reports (not in progress), etc., would be held until an available quadrant is available to handle it.”

• While officers are expected to patrol their assigned quads, they can go to other areas with “short-term” needs at their discretion.

“So between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m., it is not uncommon to see officers from the northwest quadrant or the southeast quadrant in the downtown area,” Fennelly said. “This has always been the case.”

• Large special events like parades or street parties are separate.

Officers are brought in on overtime to staff those, and Fennely said the cost is passed on to event organizers so the city can recoup some of the expense associated with staffing such events.

The night of the slayings at 11th and Massachusetts street, there were officers on foot patrol in the area.

They heard the gunfire and responded immediately, the department has said.

The department has not released details about what those officers may have seen, or circumstances of the shooting other than that it was spurred by a physical fight at the corner. Three men have been charged in connection with the incident, but the police investigation is still ongoing.

New Lawrence Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. — sworn in the day after the triple homicide, just having arrived from the Louisville (Kentucky) Metro Police Department — said this week he has not orchestrated any major changes yet, including to downtown.

In an emotional moment, Lawrence police chief Gregory Burns Jr. acknowledges being grateful for the opportunity to lead the LPD following his swearing in ceremony on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017 at the Lawrence Police Department Investigations Center, 4820 Bob Billings Parkway. Burns formerly served as the assistant police chief in the Louisville, Ky., Metro Police Department.

In an emotional moment, Lawrence police chief Gregory Burns Jr. acknowledges being grateful for the opportunity to lead the LPD following his swearing in ceremony on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017 at the Lawrence Police Department Investigations Center, 4820 Bob Billings Parkway. Burns formerly served as the assistant police chief in the Louisville, Ky., Metro Police Department.

Generally speaking, Burns said all downtowns pose unique challenges.

They are areas where entertainment venues, restaurants, drinking establishments and shopping spots meet, he said, and visitors often come in from out of town.

“It’s a place that people want to come, have a good time. There’s nothing against that, we want people to come and enjoy what the city has to offer,” Burns said. “I think that benefits everybody, but it also comes with very unique challenges.”

Burns said he is a proponent of foot patrols but reiterated the resources issue.

“Everything’s always tied to your resources, and your capabilities that you can do at that time,” he said.

Even in an area like downtown — relatively small, with high pedestrian traffic — there are still pros and cons to officers on foot.

“Foot patrols are effective in that they create a visual presence of officers in the area, but officers on foot are significantly less able to respond to incidents that are not in their immediate area,” Fennelly said. “Having officers on foot reduces our ability to respond to in-progress incidents that are more than a block or two away from officers on foot.”

For reference, the distance between Quinton’s at 615 Massachusetts St. and Brothers at 1105 Massachusetts St. — popular drinking establishments at the opposite-most ends of the drag — is more than half a mile.

Most other parts of town don’t have large concentrations of people drinking then pouring out onto the street all at the same time.

But every part of town has problems police need to deal with, Fennelly said.

“Given that only three to five officers are assigned to a quadrant at any given time, taking even one officer from that area, for any amount of time, significantly hampers the timeliness with which calls can be handled in that part of town,” Fennelly said. “Each quadrant has a unique set of issues and circumstances that require patrol attention.”

Contact public safety reporter Sara Shepherd
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Comments

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 1 month, 2 weeks ago

I grew up in a large TX city. They used officers on horseback to patrol shopping areas. They rotated among the many shopping districts. They are distinct advantages to having an officer on horseback.

1 month, 2 weeks ago

The police and bar owners should form a partnership and discuss ways to make it safer. This could include high Def camera scans of each person entering an establishment, dress codes enforced that make it difficult to conceal guns, and security wanding every person. Looking at other cities nationwide, they utilize this kind of partnership and share ideas.

1 month, 2 weeks ago

In addition, our lighting in downtown parking lots is horrible. Look at the lot behind Watkins museum, for example, light turn off from a timer, and do not turn on with motion. I feel like the lights should get set to stay on solid from dark to dawn.

Richard Quinlan 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Since Lawrence has decided to dispense large amounts of drugs , alcohol , nightly downtown these incidents and accidents will continue. Aint alcohol great ?

Jake Davis 1 month, 2 weeks ago

I would like to see our police department bring back motorcycle and bicycle patrols for downtown. Both offer visibility, maneuverability, and enforcement abilities.

Jennifer Harrison 1 month, 2 weeks ago

If we are talking police resources specifically for the downtown area, I would support a small tax increase from a downtown benefit district, an increase in parking fines, or an increase in the alcohol tax fund. The city should also charge these bars for any venue they bring to downtown to offset any public safety cost. I’m not sure what a police officer earns but figure five officers earning $75k in salary/benefits so for $425k and you could have a permanent downtown patrol district paid for by the users.

Pete Kennamore 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Ah the solution to any problem...more tax

Richard Quinlan 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Theres more than plenty of police in Lawrence. Take an honest look at who were attracting to downtown venues , how much alcohol were vending out each night and whether you can change those dynamics.

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