Here’s how Westport’s new security measures could affect the district’s bottom line

Visitors to Westport must pass through security checkpoints

New security measures have been implemented for Westport on Friday and Saturday nights. Pedestrians will walk through screeners, and bags will be checked.
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New security measures have been implemented for Westport on Friday and Saturday nights. Pedestrians will walk through screeners, and bags will be checked.

The streets and sidewalks in Westport should be open and accessible on weekend nights. But if stakeholders remain committed to the new security measures put in place to improve public safety in the district, they may need to develop better solutions to address issues in the area

Otherwise, the decision to privatize some sidewalks in the district may prove cumbersome for customers — and could lead to unrest in the streets.

And the loss of sales tax revenue would hurt area businesses and the city’s bottom line.

The Kansas City Council allowed privatization in the entertainment district after fatal shootings and other violent crimes. Last week, at least four security checkpoints were set up in the entertainment district.

Visitors were expected to empty their pockets and get their bags and purses checked. The new “enhanced” security measures also include metal detectors, but those devices had not yet been deployed.

Of course, stakeholders are optimistic after a violence-free Labor Day weekend, but it’s premature to draw too many conclusions from the implementation of the new rules and the lack of gun-related arrests. Only time will tell if the measures will help reduce violent crime.

“The feedback we have received has been positive, and patrons were happy to have security screenings taking place as an added nighttime safety measure,” a spokeswoman for the Westport Regional Business League told The Star.

Problems in Westport are profound and shouldn’t be ignored. But where is the balance?

Kansas City can’t be on lockdown with metal detectors and barriers scattered across the city’s entertainment districts. They send the wrong impression that the city isn’t safe.

Roadblocks make Westport look like a de facto crime zone — not a place to eat, drink and enjoy a night out. They shouldn’t be permanent. Entry into the entertainment district should not be complicated by an exhaustive list of banned items, either.

Gaining access to eat and drink is not the same as getting into government buildings, concert arenas or sports stadiums. Nor should it be. Restrictions in Westport — the list of prohibited items is 19 pages long — are hard to enforce in a public space and slow the screening process.

As Rev. Rodney E. Williams, president of the Kansas City Chapter of the NAACP has said, the best option to address violence in Westport may be saturation patrols during high-crime hours and screening devices at the entrances to private businesses, rather than to public streets or sidewalks.

The threat of ostracizing patrons is real if Westport insists on installing street barriers and metal detectors. In the long-term, stakeholders must find a more efficient and less burdensome way to address public safety.