Westport merchants have announced they will use “enhanced security” measures beginning Friday evening inside the entertainment district.
From 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, anyone entering a designated pedestrian area must pass through one of four security checkpoints.
The new measures are the result on ongoing security concerns. Westport has long been a weekend gathering spot but has also attracted large groups of teens and seen shootings, assaults and other violence.
The entrance gates will be at Westport Road and Mill Street, Westport Road and Broadway Boulevard, Pennsylvania Avenue and Archibald Road, and Pennsylvania Avenue and the entrance to the parking garage.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Westport officials said boundary markers will be placed around the part of the entertainment district designated as the pedestrian zone. The screenings will be similar to those at sports events, with bag checks, according to the Westport Regional Business League.
Weapons and large metal objects will be prohibited. Bags and purses cannot be larger than 8.5 inches by 11 inches by 6 inches.
Law enforcement, private security and civil rights monitors are expected to be in the entertainment district, the group said.
“Westport values diversity and is known for its openness and eclectic community — regardless of race, color, gender, religious creed, sexual-orientation, national origin, and ancestry,” the group said in a statement.
“As a result, we have zero tolerance for anything that runs counter to this position. As soon as we learn of an issue, we address it and partner with professional companies that share this inclusive mindset.”
The Kansas City Council in December allowed privatization of some sidewalks in the entertainment district. Friday is the first time merchants have been allowed to use screeners.
Westport business owners said owning the sidewalks allows them to screen visitors for weapons and reduce crime.
Those who opposed the effort have said that the security setup could lead to racial profiling, bringing unlawful attention to black and other minority patrons of bars and restaurants.
“I stand by my vote against the measure,” said Councilman Quinton Lucas. “As I said then, privatization of public right of way and giving up the people’s rights are not the most effective or responsible ways to prevent violent crime in any community or portion of it. I continue to believe that.”
Since the vote, Lucas said, he has accompanied Kansas City police officers, sheriff’s deputies and Westport security as they patrolled the district.
“On each occasion, I saw what our public safety folks are facing: armed people looking to disrupt a safe night for others,” he said. “I understand why Westport is seeking this solution. Since I was on the losing vote, I now hope that the new procedures help reduce criminal activity in the area.”
Under Missouri law, police can screen for concealed weapons on private but not public property.
“I also hope Westport is vigilant about ensuring that those looking to enter are screened fairly and without discrimination against any types of patrons based on race, clothing, or any other unacceptable proxies barring any group of people,” Lucas said.