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Philly police to begin “active enforcement” in Kensington: “We will be making arrests”

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Bethel named gun violence and illegal drug activity as top priorities, plus other crimes “that have kept that community pretty much imprisoned for a long time.” 

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel speaks at a community meeting at Rock Ministries on April 29, 2024. (Photo by Solmaira Valerie)

The Philadelphia Police Department will begin the enforcement phase of Mayor Cherelle Parker's Kensington Community Revival plan after the next Philadelphia Police Academy class graduates on June 17. 

“I will make no excuses for the fact that we will go down there in a much more forward posture, that we will be making arrests,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel at a press conference Monday.

Bethel named gun violence and illegal drug activity as top priorities, plus other crimes “that have kept that community pretty much imprisoned for a long time.” 

“We are no longer going to allow individuals to take needles and shoot them up in front of children and families,” he said. “We’re no longer going to allow individuals to walk through the neighborhood and steal things that are not theirs.” 

Deputy Police Commissioner Pedro Rosario, appointed in January to oversee all Kensington efforts, said the police will be doing “active enforcement by next week.”

Rosario said the officers will focus on the area between Tioga Street and Indiana Avenue, but those boundaries are not “a hard point.”

“It’s not where we stop,” he said. “It’s just where the initial focus was … the strategy is fluid.”

Police selected that area due to high concentration of violence and open-air drug use, he said.

According to Rosario, the department has been “purposeful” in engaging community members and using their feedback to inform their strategy. He said the community has said that what is happening now “can’t continue.” 

“That we have to reset those norms,” Rosario said. “We really have to bring a sense of normalcy back to the Kensington community.” 

Earlier this year, Rosario sent an email recruiting for a “temporary task force” of “assertive officers who possess strong work ethic and the ability to operate competently under extremely stressful conditions.” He told Kensington Voice in April that once PPD begins arresting drug dealers, specialized officers will be need to take action when “gun violence explodes” between competitors.

He said he has a list of officers who’ve volunteered for this task force, but the initiative is “paused” until the 75 new foot beat officers are established.

“I can’t deploy everybody at the same time, so the commissioner steered us in this direction where we get these resources right away.” 

Parker’s five-phase plan, announced at Conwell Middle School in April, began with a “warning and opportunity phase,” followed by a phase focused on “law enforcement & the community’s establishment of goals and expectations." 

At Monday’s press conference, Bethel said the warning and opportunity phase began in early March and that police would “always” allow people an opportunity to engage with services.

“We’re always going to be in our phase-one approach of giving any individuals down there who want an opportunity to go into services,” he said.

He also tried to set expectations, saying that change would not happen “overnight” and that “being unsheltered is not illegal.” 

“We're not trying to overrun the system,” Bethel said. “We’re not going down there to lock up 590-plus people.”

According to Bethel, the graduating class includes 75 police officers — slightly fewer than the 78 rookie officers Philadelphia Police Inspector Anthony Luca announced at a Harrowgate Civic Association meeting last week. The full cohort will deploy to Kensington, increasing the number of Philadelphia police officers there from about 40 to 120 – a 200% increase. 

“It will be very scripted, very strategic,” he said, adding that the new officers will be “acclimated” to the area before deployment. 

He also said the foot beat officers have received “some additional training,” including those joining the force next week. 

The new officers will be supervised by veteran officers, according to Rosario. They will collaborate with police from the 24th District, plus officers from the East Service Detail who respond with social workers, according to Rosario.

“We count on the training, the selection process, a lot of scenario-based training in the field,” he said. “As a commander, I’m always worried about my younger people in those situations. But the same thing could happen with a veteran officer. I worry about all my people.” 

This story will be updated as more information becomes available. 

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