On a night that saw multiple acts of mayhem and violence unfold around Westport this past weekend, Kansas City police took a rare step: They ordered all bars closed early.
About 2:15 a.m. Sunday, police officers visited the businesses one by one and told staff to clear out their patrons and close, nearly an hour before their usual closing time of 3 a.m.
The closures came after at least one law enforcement officer was reportedly assaulted in the entertainment district, but before a shootout erupted near 40th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, leaving three people wounded, including one shot by a police officer.
Worries about crime in Westport, which is seeing a wave of new development, have prompted calls for new solutions. Over the past year, shootings there have left at least 13 people injured, helping inspire a push to privatize a stretch of Westport streets so that beefed-up security might keep out weapons.
Meanwhile, critics worry about giving up public streets and fear a more aggressive approach by law enforcement tasked with keeping order on busy weekend nights.
The closure Sunday morning of all Westport businesses by order of the Police Department was the first in recent memory, according to Kim Kimbrough, director of the Westport Regional Business League.
Westport has seen such closures before, Kimbrough said Monday, but it has been more than a decade since it last happened and he could not recall the details of previous instances. The closure applied to all businesses in the Westport Community Improvement District, but after 2 a.m., most of the businesses still open are bars.
Kimbrough said the league did not disagree with the police order.
“We believe it was the correct action,” Kimbrough said. “We err on the side of people and people’s safety. Safety of our visitors is our No. 1 concern.”
But others in Westport, including bar employees and patrons, questioned the decision to close the bars early and said law enforcement used pepper spray on crowds in the streets.
Kansas City police have not said which specific incident prompted them to close the district and have not said whether officers used pepper spray Sunday morning.
About 2:30 a.m., a Jackson County sheriff’s deputy responded to the scene of a fight near West 40th Terrace and Pennsylvania Avenue, where a Kansas City police officer had been punched by a man while breaking up a fight, according to the deputy’s report. Police arrested the man.
A short time earlier, about a block away at Snow and Co. at 421 Westport Road, a new employee on her first weekend shift witnessed a police foot chase and a melee that ended with a crowd of people being pepper-sprayed.
Rachel McMillan, 22, was cleaning up after her first Saturday night working at Snow & Co. when she saw a man sprinting down Westport Road outside the front window.
Several law enforcement officers ran after the man. Behind them, dozens of people followed the action, watching.
As the running man passed by, McMillan watched Jackson County sheriff’s deputies command the crowd to back away.
“They were telling people to get back, but people were drunk and wanted to see what was going on,” McMillan said.
When the crowd didn’t move back, McMillan said, the deputies released what she thought was pepper spray into the air.
“Some people were kind of choking,” McMillan said. “Some people were almost vomiting.”
Patrons banged on the Snow & Co. door trying to get inside to escape the spray, McMillian, but the store was already closed and locked.
McMillan said crime in Westport made her think twice about working in the entertainment district, but that she would continue at her job.
Those incidents, and the closure of Westport, occurred before Kansas City police on patrol near 40th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue saw a man shooting into a crowd of people.
An officer shot the man, who was transported to a hospital in critical condition.
Two men thought to have been injured in that shooting were found by a Jackson County sheriff’s deputy who stopped a car nearby with three men inside. One of the men told the deputy that he had been shot in the leg and the penis.
A second man also had suffered a gunshot wound, and a third was not injured.
Kimbrough, the director of the Westport business league, said he didn’t think the shooting was related to the closure of the bars.
But he said a proposal to privatize some stretches of Westport streets might have prevented the shooting.
“Unfortunately, the incident occurred in the area that is proposed for street vacation, and we believe if that had been in place, those weapons would not have been available” to the shooter, Kimbrough said.
The proposal, expected to be reviewed by the Kansas City Plan Commission, would privatize Pennsylvania Avenue from West 40th Street on the north to Archibald Street and Westport Road from Broadway to Mill Street.
Supporters of the proposal say that privatizing the street would improve safety because it would allow police to use metal detectors to check individuals for weapons and ban guns outright from the entertainment area.
Critics say giving up public streets is unnecessary and worry that the Westport district could start charging patrons for access.
One Westport bar employee, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions at work, said he thought the closure was an overreaction.
“Shutting down every bar in the area seems like a bit of an overreach,” the man said.
Kimbrough said he doesn’t expect to see more early closures of Westport.
“This is a very unusual circumstance,” he said. “It’s not likely to be repeated often.”