‘Better than nothing’ or ‘a little much’? Westport fans react to security efforts

Despite steady rain Westport’s new security screenings were in full swing Friday night.

The enhanced security screenings were scheduled to begin last weekend in an effort to deter late-night violent crime, Westport officials had said in a statement posted on their website. But Stacey McBride, a spokeswoman for the Westport Regional Business League, said staff and security experienced “some glitches” in the process.

Now those visiting Westport’s bars and clubs from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays will find four security checkpoints set up in the entertainment district: 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.

Visitors coming into the district during those hours and days are expected to empty their pockets, get their bags and purses checked and walk through a metal detector.

The screenings come nearly nine months after the Kansas City Council voted to allow privatization of some sidewalks in the entertainment district. Opponents worried privatization could lead to instances of discrimination, and as local NAACP officials said, “increase civil rights violations, and increase racial tension.”

The new security measures were initially planned to take place last spring, but officials pointed to a delay in completing the legal paperwork. By July, Westport and city officials said they were still in the process of redrawing property lines.

Dozens of people lined up along Mill Street after midnight Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, as they waited to get through security and into Westport’s bars and clubs in Kansas City. Kaitlyn Schwers kschwers@kcstar.com

On Friday before midnight, three of four security checkpoints were up and running. The fourth checkpoint, at Pennsylvania Avenue and the entrance to the parking garage, was used as an exit only due to the annual art show, which kicked off earlier in the day.

One by one, patrons stepped up to the tables on the sidewalk and emptied items from their pockets into bins. Westport staff members shined lights into bags, checked IDs and sent visitors through metal detectors.

At screening time, Marcus Blakley was one of the first in line to get through one of the busiest checkpoints, at Westport Road and Mill Street.

“I mean, it’s cool,” said Blakley after having a wand swept over him as his belt buckle had set off the alarm, “but it’s a little much just to come down here and eat and just hang out.”

Some who passed through Friday shared similar sentiments. Few commented they weren’t expecting new security measures.

More frequent guests of the popular bar and club scene in Westport said the added security procedures may take some time to get used to, but felt it should make people feel more safe.

While Austin Pfannenstiel waited for a friend to get through a metal detector, he thought back to the few times he’s been to Westport. He’s never felt threatened, he said, but referred to Westport as having a reputation for violence.

“From what I’ve heard, it’s a lot better than what it was compared to just an ID check and walk-in,” Pfannenstiel said.

“I think it’ll be more effective if they take it seriously. I don’t know if they’ve ever taken it as serious as it probably should be.”

Once she got through the line, Elexus Grizzle pulled up her cellphone camera to record people going through the metal detector. She wanted to show her friends what she’d been seeing for the first time.

“I feel like it’s better than doing nothing. I feel like, you know, what other procedures are we going to do to stop people from shooting each other? If this helps them not bring guns in here, that helps,” Grizzle said.

“It seems outrageous and crazy, but at the end of the day, when it’s your brother, your friend (getting hurt), that’s not cool. I’m not against it, but it just makes you feel like damn, we’re in Kansas City and we have to have a metal detector out in Westport for guns.”