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Philly police are sending 78 rookie cops to Kensington starting June 18: “We’re going to be pushing the crowds”

The Philadelphia Police Academy’s entire graduating class – a total of 78 new officers – will patrol Kensington “24/7” starting June 18. Their deployment will increase the neighborhood’s police force by almost 200%.  

An officer from the Philadelphia Police Department patrols Kensington Avenue on May 7, 2024. (Photo by Jill Bauer-Reese)

At a Harrowgate Civic Association meeting on Thursday night, East Division Inspector Anthony Luca announced that the Philadelphia Police Academy’s entire graduating class – a total of 78 new officers – will patrol Kensington “24/7” starting June 18. Their deployment will increase the neighborhood’s police force by almost 200%.  

“No other officers from Philadelphia are going to anywhere else in the city except for Kensington starting on June 18,” Luca said. 

According to Luca, the new officers will work three shifts and cover the neighborhood 24 hours a day. Most of the officers will patrol the neighborhood on foot, and some will be on bikes.

Luca said the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) is getting a “small pool of supervisors” to manage the new officers. Former Captain LaVerne Vann has been promoted to Staff Inspector and will take Luca’s role managing the Kensington Police Department (KPD) headquarters on Emerald Street and Allegheny Avenue. 

The announcement was met with silence – a stark contrast to community meetings earlier this year, which were filled with hope and celebration – except for one resident who asked Luca if they could get that promise of 78 new officers “in writing.” Others asked what the police would do, especially when people declined services. 

“We’re going to be pushing the crowds, moving them, making sure that they’re transient,” Luca said. “The more you move them, the more they get frustrated, and maybe they’ll say, ‘Oh, I gotta get help.’” 

According to Luca, the “entire narcotics division” has been in Kensington for the last few weeks. He also said that SEPTA has dispatched “additional resources” to Somerset station, where drug-related activity has increased since the latest encampment sweep

The PPD have made about 200 arrests for “open-air drug usage” from “prior to Christmas,” and the narcotics division has made “well over 100 arrests just from the Kensington corridor,” Luca said. ATF just made numerous house arrests with multiple firearms, he added. 

Last night’s announcement was the first from the city in the neighborhood since May 8, when police and sanitation workers swept an encampment spanning a two-block stretch of Kensington Avenue without offering anyone city services. It was the tenth Kensington encampment clearing since 2017.  

Since then, there has been a noticeable increase in police visibility in the neighborhood, and residents have responded to the clearing and police activity with a wide range of opinions. 

Meanwhile, legal advocates and community members continue to brace for enforcement Mayor Cherelle Parker promised in her five-phase Kensington Community Revival plan

On Friday afternoon, a PPD spokesperson said the department “does not publicly confirm specific deployment and staffing plans for tactical purposes” but expects to have more information about the plans by “early next week.” 

“One of Mayor Parker’s primary goals in Kensington is for PPD to address the rampant drug sales that have created an environment conducive to an open-air drug market,” PPD spokesperson Eric Gripp wrote in an email Friday afternoon. “We are sending a clear message that such operations are unacceptable in Philadelphia.”

According to Gripp, the PPD will announce the timing of their operations related to Parker’s five-phase plan “in the very near future.” He also said the recent increases in police presence in the neighborhood have focused on people using and selling drugs. 

“This increased presence aims not only to enforce the law and provide services to the addicted communities but also to address the dangerous sellers who contribute to the violence and instability in Kensington,” Grip wrote.  

The Kensington caucus – a group of City Council members Quetzy Lozada (District 7), Mike Driscoll (District 6), Mark Squilla (District 1), and Jim Harrity (At-Large) released a statement on Friday in support of the increased law enforcement.

"The community deserves to feel that their family and loved ones are protected and that their government is making their safety a priority," the statement read. "Increasing the presence of officers to address public safety as a whole is a much needed first step in restoring stability to this community, and an opportunity to rebuild the trust with residents that have lost faith in our system."

However, other city stakeholders have weighed in with concerns.

“You’re not sending 78 social workers, 78 individuals looking to help people in addiction – you’re sending 78 police officers,” said Andrew Pappas, pre-trial managing director of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. “The inevitable result in that is going to be an increase in arrests.”

Pappas also expressed concern about the officer’s qualifications to work in one of the city’s most complicated neighborhoods.  

“These aren’t officers who have a level of experience dealing with addiction or people in mental health crisis,” he said. “They’re walking out the doors of the police academy and straight into Kensington. What could possibly go wrong?”

Editor's note: This story was updated to include comments from the Philadelphia Police Department, the Kensington caucus, and the Defenders Association of Philadelphia.

*Sammy Caiola and Jill Bauer-Reese contributed reporting.

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