Watch CBS News

Philadelphia police lay out plans to tackle drugs, violence in Kensington: "We will be making arrests"

Philadelphia police detail first steps of 5-step plan to reform Kensington neighborhood
Philadelphia police detail first steps of 5-step plan to reform Kensington neighborhood 02:05

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Philadelphia Police on Monday announced their long-awaited plans to clean up Kensington, an area in the city notorious for being one of the largest open-air drug markets in the United States. Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel said the department understands the scale of this task.

"It's not like we have a comparison anywhere in America to give us a playbook as to how to do this," Bethel said from police headquarters on Monday afternoon.

Mayor Parker taps Pedro Rosario to lead Kensington strategy as deputy police commissioner 02:11

Aside from the highly-publicized open drug use and drug sales that have long plagued the neighborhood, police note it as one of the most violent in the city. Deputy Commissioner Pedro Rosario, who heads the department's Kensington Initiative, said "Consistently this area has been number one in the city of Philadelphia with shooting victims and homicides."

Bethel, the former head of safety for the School District of Philadelphia, said this violence has had a real impact on kids in the neighborhood.

"Conwell Middle School and Willard, which are across the street from each other, are number one and number three in the nation for having the highest level of shootings around their schools within 500 feet," Bethel said.

Monday marked the official start of the first phase of the five-step plan. Police said fliers will go out to the community. They'll feature QR codes and information for people seeking housing and treatment options. It also details a list of what people can expect in the neighborhood over the summer, including a line titled, "Community Standards," which states: "Behaviors such as public drug use, drug sales and camping are not tolerated."

"I will make no excuses for the fact that we will be going down there in a much more forward posture, and we will be making arrests," Bethel said.

The fliers also tell residents to "expect to see more officers" in the area, something Bethel said will happen as soon as next week. That's when dozens of officers graduating from the police academy class will be assigned to Kensington.

"We will be moving 75 people, men and women from the Philadelphia Police Academy, who will graduate next week, will move into the Kensington pocket," Bethel said.

That, according to police, will begin Phase 2 of the initiative, also dubbed the "law enforcement" phase. Police said most of those officers will be on foot, first to increase police visibility on the street, but also to form bonds with the community at large.

"That explosion of collaboration is what we're really trying to jump on and build on to really be able to make effective change," Rosario said.

Bethel would not put a timeline on how long their operation would last. But he did say police know and understand the challenges they face, and that they will be flexible as the initiative progresses.

But officials also say they feel energized heading into the campaign, with support from city leaders, they say, didn't always exist.

"This is the first time in a long time that we've had the will to really commit resources," said Rosario.

Bethel said officers will remain in the neighborhood for as long as needed, but the ultimate goal is to turn Kensington back over to the community.  

"We're gonna work to clear the road, but it will be the community. The community will be the ones that step up and take this from us," Bethel said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.