Though it's not the final say, Kansas City officials decided Wednesday they'd be OK with privatizing some sidewalks in Westport so business owners can screen for guns at the entrance of the entertainment district . The measure now goes to the full City Council.
It's a proposal that's sparked passionate debate. Opponents argue checking for guns on busy nights opens the door for racial profiling, while supporters insist they’re trying to keep patrons safe due to an uptick in shootings in the area.
The proposal would allow sidewalks in Westport to be barricaded between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. on weekends and for special festivals. To get in, people would have to pass through a metal detector.
It's unknown whether vacating sidewalks is an effective means of curbing violent crime. Lawyers for Westport business haven't been able to provide examples of similar methods being implemented successfully in other cities.
Citing this, BikeWalk KC Policy Coordinator Michael Kelley testified against the ordinance.
“Each and every time an organization or individual has asked for proof that this will work, supporters have responded that Westport is too unique, or they pointed to examples that don’t fit and didn’t work out,” Kelley said.
Councilwoman Alissia Canady said she thinks it’s a chance to set precedent, and voted in favor of the measure. Though she said she understands concerns that it could lead the city down a slippery slope when it comes to discrimination and profiling, she feels it’s important to act now.
“I think the one that is not even slippery, it’s a deep dive, is when policymakers have an opportunity to do something about gun violence, and we don’t out of fear,” Canady said.
Especially, she said, given the recent evidence provided by Kansas City police that violent crime has gone up in the area. Such incidents are concentrated disproportionately where Westport Road intersects with Mill Street, Pennsylvania Avenue and Broadway Boulevard — all of which are within the proposed sidewalk privatization zone.
There were 16 gun-related weapons offenses in the district in 2016, according to statistics from the Westport Regional Business League. Through Oct. 31 this year, there were 65. Police say majority of those incidents occurred on weekends at about the time bars close.
Councilman Lee Barnes Jr. said he’s on the fence about the ordinance, which is why he voted in favor of it — to move it to the full City Council so all members can weigh in.
“As a former business owner, I understand folks want to keep their property safe,” he said. “On the flip side, as a black man who has lived in Kansas City my entire life, I understand the potential and possibility for [racial profiling].”
Wednesday's 4-2 vote came during a joint meeting of the council's planning, zoning and economic development committee and the neighborhoods committee. The ordinance will go before the full council for a discussion before a vote is taken.
Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig.