Monday, March 11, 2024

The Kensington Initiative: A Veteran Narcotics Officer On Combating The Kensington Open-Air Drug Market.

Broad & Liberty ran my piece on the Philadelphia Police Department’s Kensington Initiative, and a veteran narcotics officer on combating Kensington’s open-air drug markets.

You can read the piece via the below link or the below text:

 Paul Davis: The Kensington Initiative (

Back on January 11th, Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle L. Parker and Police Commissioner Kevin J. Bethel announced their plans to combat public safety in the city, especially in the Kensington area, where open air drug markets and scenes of pathetic drug addicts often make national news.

“Earlier this week, I had the privilege of meeting with community members from Kensington to listen to their hopes and aspirations for their neighborhood,” said Mayor Cherelle L. Parker. “Today, I’m proud to return and stand with Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel as he administers the oath to Pedro Rosario, whose unmatched qualifications and 29 years of service make him the best candidate to lead our efforts in Kensington. We celebrate his becoming the first Latino Deputy Police Commissioner in Philadelphia Police history – over 225 years.”

Police Commissioner Bethel added, “For too long, Kensington has borne the scars of drugs and blight. It’s our charge to turn the tide, and to lead this effort, I’m excited to announce the creation of a new position within the department: Deputy Commissioner of the Kensington Initiative. For this role, I have determined that there’s no better person to lead the charge than Captain Pedro Rosario. With 29 years of dedicated experience in the PPD – most of which was spent serving in various roles in East Division – Pedro embodies the grit and dedication this mission demands. 

“And in a historic first for our department, Deputy Commissioner Rosario’s appointment marks a long-overdue milestone on our path to inclusivity. As the first Latino Deputy Commissioner in PPD’s 225-year history, his leadership reflects the diversity of the communities we serve, sending a powerful message of representation both within and beyond the badge.”
On her first day in office, Mayor Parker issued Executive Order 1-24, declaring a “Public Safety Emergency” in Philadelphia. The Executive Order directs “the police commissioner, with support from the managing director and other city officials, to develop a comprehensive strategy, using every available resource, to combat and prevent violent crime, including to attack open-air drug markets in neighborhoods like Kensington.”

I reached out to a veteran Philadelphia Police narcotic officer who works in the East Division, and I asked him about the Kensington Initiative

The narcotics officer welcomed the news as he explained that the officers were shorthanded because no one wants the job of working Kensington. He also welcomed the new leadership.

“Bethal is good,” the officer said. “I knew him back in the day when he was a cop.”

I mentioned that I had gone on a ride along with a detective through Kensington a while back. The poverty, the filth, and the desperate drug addicts on the streets reminded me of some third-world countries I visited while serving in the U.S. Navy    

“The area of Kensington and Allegheny has gone through the roof. It’s gotten worse in the last couple of years,” the narcotics officer said. “There are people laying on the curbs, laying in the street, and they are doing the “dead man,” with their bodies standing up. It is unbelievable that they don’t fall down.” 

The narcotics officer said there is heroin cut with fentanyl being sold and they are now encountering pure fentanyl. 

“We’re hitting houses now where there are five guys sitting around a table where they are bagging. Nobody has a mask on, and they got pure fentanyl sitting on the table. When we come in the door, it looks like the room is full of clouds because there is so much fentanyl flying in the air,” the officer said. “Some who died bagging it.  

The officer spoke of the scene where one sees a corner where they ran out of drugs and the drug dealers are waiting for a drop-off. One will also see people walking around like zombies.

I noted that it looked like a scene from “The Walking Dead.”

“Then all of a sudden, the drop-off will happen, and a guy will swing by and then that corner opens. It’s almost like a store, and you’ll see fifty people just coming to that corner like wildfire.”

I asked the narcotics officer who were the drug dealers. Is it organized crime or local drug gangs?

“You have local gangs, like the Dominicans. They come into the country, and we lock them up and they’ll be sent back, and then they’ll be here again tomorrow. They are pretty smart. There are also Mexicans and Puerto Rican gangs. Everybody has their own little gig.”

The narcotics officer explained that a typical gang leader lives up in the Northeast, where he’s got a nice house. He has guys who work for him, and they are picking up the drugs and supplying Kensington and Allegheny and G Street and Westmoreland. He has five corners that he is supplying, while there is another gang leader who is supplying four corners like C and Allegheny. They can be on the opposite corner of the other gang.

I asked the officer if these gangs war with each other.

“Yeah, sometimes. If they step on each other’s foot, you’ll have these shootings here and there. Most of the street drug dealers are young whippersnappers out on the corners. They can make from $200 to $500 a day slinging drugs. 

“In their thinking, why should they get a job? They’ll get pinched once in a while, they’ll go to court, the judge will say, yeah whatever, OK you got fined and probation, and then the next day they are on the corner making another $500. It’s like a regular job.” 

I noted that drug dealers are like cockroaches: they scamper from the light, but then they return. 

I spoke with the narcotics officer about the mayor and the police commissioner who are going to try to do something about the problem in Kensington. I asked him if District Attorney Krasner will work with the new drug enforcement initiative and prosecute the drug dealers that the cops arrest.  

“That’s going to be the problem. You are going to have to get them good for the DA to do something.” The officer said. “I don’t think the DA prosecutes anyone properly — other than cops.”

The narcotics officer said that Krasner will slap the drug dealers on the wrist and say let’s give them another chance.

“If the DA and courts don’t start banging these guys with stiff sentences, it’s never going to change in Kensington and other parts of the city.” 

Paul Davis, a Philadelphia writer and frequent contributor to Broad + Liberty, also contributes to Counterterrorism magazine and writes the “On Crime” column for the Washington Times. He can be reached at 

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