By Bryan Horwath
On Tuesday, a group organized by Wichita developer Jason Van Sickle went public with an effort they hope will lead to a sales tax increase on the ballot this fall.
Basically, the group's message is that the city needs more police on the street and more money for equipment for firefighters. The group doesn't think the city is adequately funding its police and fire departments at a time when growth and downtown development are being emphasized.
The group — which Van Sickle has dubbed the Wichita Community Safety Coalition — has backing from local police and fire union leaders. Right now, Van Sickle and Co. are wanting to gain public support for a 0.25 percent city sales tax increase that would go only to fund the police and fire departments.
While it remains to be seen just how supportive Wichita's citizens will be to the idea of raising taxes — in this area of the country, new taxes are generally frowned upon — the group raises some thought-provoking concerns.
While it might be an inexact science to decide exactly how many police officers are needed in a city Wichita's size, let's look at some of the numbers.
According to the Wichita Police Department, the number of commissioned officers for 2017 was 650, which is the same number as the year before. However, if we look back to 2009, the city actually had 669 commissioned cops.
Since 2001, Wichita has had at least 640 commissioned officers, so things have remained mostly the same during the past 15-plus years. However, Wichita's population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, grew from 382,368 in 2010 to 389,902 in 2016.
With new apartment dwellings being consistently added in the city's downtown core these past few years — a trend that will continue into the immediate future — downtown's population has been growing. Van Sickle also, at a Wichita Downtown Neighborhood Alliance meeting earlier this year, called for the creation of a new downtown police bureau.
A check of the annual homicide numbers, courtesy of the Wichita Police Department, shows that the city had 26 murders in 2009, but just 18 in 2010. Since 2010, however, Wichita has averaged slightly more than 28 per year, including 38 homicides last year.
A little over four months into 2018, the city already has half as many homicides as last year.
Where exactly this effort will lead — if anywhere — is yet to be seen, but it could be an interesting group to follow.