Back in 2012, on assignment for Counterterrorism magazine, I went out and shadowed Philadelphia narcotic officers on drug raids.
Unfortunately, not much has changed since I accompanied the narcotics officers that night. With the introduction of the deadly narcotic fentanyl, the drug crisis has become even worse.
“We have two search warrants set up for today,” Philadelphia Police Officer Theresa Weaver told her passenger, a writer along for the ride to Southwest Philadelphia to observe the actions of the Philadelphia Police Narcotics Field Unit South. “We will be attempting to make buys with a confidential informant. And if those buys are successful, we’ll be executing the two search warrants on the properties.”
Weaver explains that they generally have confidential informants (CIs) make two or three narcotics buys before they execute a warrant.
“These are independent, street level drug dealers,” her partner, Officer Greg Barber explained.
Barber, who grew up in West and Southwest Philadelphia, said that crack cocaine and heroin were the popular drugs being sold on the street.
“Most of your crime is associated with drugs. The stealing and the shootings, the robberies and the home invasions are committed by people trying to get money for drugs,” Barber said. “Drugs lead to confrontations between different neighborhoods and that’s when the shootings come about.”
There are ten officers in the squad, and they met in the 19th Police District to plan for the first raid on a drug house. The officers are dressed mostly in Dickies work clothing, which allows them to blend in on the street.
The officers were given assignments and positions. One officer was equipped with a hand-held battering ram to take down the door and another officer was issued a shotgun. Two uniform officers were assigned to accompany the undercover narcotics officers.
“Because of the way we execute the warrants, we don’t give them an opportunity to fight,” Weaver said. “Planning is everything,”
Barber added. The squad parked their unmarked cars in the vicinity of the drug house and waited for the call on their radio that said the confidential informant (CI) made the buy. The buy was made and the officers rushed to the house and quickly placed several young men down on the porch and placed them in handcuffs.
A couple of young men ran and some of the officers chased them down the street. The remaining officers searched the house for drugs and guns. The officers found crack and marijuana and they found two guns hidden in the ceiling.
Lt Robert Otto, the unit’s commander, explained that the narcotics unit requires a tremendous amount of personal sacrifice from the officers, aside from the fact that they are putting their lives on the line.
“Crack and heroin are the most addictive drugs I’ve seen in my career and with that I see a lot of violence,” Otto said. “Recently, there has also been a surge in the abuse and sale of prescription pills.”
Otto said that close to 50% of their investigations now deal with prescription drugs, which are extremely addictive.
“We also get involved with chasing the violence,” Otto explained. “A lot of violent crime happens as a result of narcotics.”
Sgt Berle “Chico” Brereton, a 24-year narcotics veteran and the son of a retired narcotics officer, explained that the squad attacks the mid-level to lower-level drug traffickers on the street.
“We’ve hit this house before and we’ve gotten guns and drugs out of this house before. This is one of the problem houses in the district. They had a homicide here last year,” Brereton said.
Brereton said they put in a call to have the city “seal” the house so the drug dealers can’t return to operate there. “We’ll shut this nuisance down, get the guns off the street and maybe no one will get shot here.”
Brereton said the people who are buying drugs at this level are users who break into cars, break into people’s houses, and rob people on the street to get money to buy drugs.
“There are decent people here who can’t move. We’re the only people who are going to help them,” Brereton said. “We’re proactive. We come out here every day and lock people up. We call the Southwest detectives and they come and debrief the people we locked up and then follow up on shootings, homicides and crimes like that. “My squad is predominantly black,” Brereton said. “We try to preach to the young black kids involved with drugs.”
Otto said that one of the main objectives was to get into a house like this and remove the guns that normally go with drugs and violence. He said that the two recovered guns might be responsible for countless murders. “I tell my guys all of the time; you’re never going to know until you meet your Maker just how many people you have saved by getting these guns off the street,” Otto said.