Dozens of new cadets to patrol Kensington

Kensington Cadets
Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel speaks about his department’s strategy in Kensington during a news conference Monday, June 10, at PPD headquarters.

Dozens of cadets will graduate from the police academy and be deployed into Kensington next week, as authorities plan to ramp up enforcement in accordance with a plan to shut down the neighborhood’s drug trade.

The 75 rookies set to earn their badges Monday will be assigned primarily to patrol the area on foot, and the move will bring the total number of officers in Kensington up to 120, Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel said Monday.

“I want to caution you here, we still have a lot of work to do,” he told reporters at an afternoon news conference at PPD headquarters. “My team does not believe that overnight, we’re going to take care of an issue that has been there for decades.”

Mayor Cherelle Parker, in one of her first official actions, signed an executive order declaring a “public safety emergency” and directing Bethel to develop a plan to close down Kensington’s open-air drug market.

His strategy, released in April as part of a 100-day report, incorporates five phases. Though officials said the steps are fluid and overlapping, the PPD is preparing to enter the second phase – enhanced enforcement – next week.

The report says Phase 2 “will be a multi-day initiative that will include arrests for narcotics, prostitution, quality-of-life crimes, and other criminal acts.”

Police officers on bicycles patrol near Kensington and Allegheny avenues Wednesday, May 15.JACK TOMCZUK / METRO FILE

PPD’s Kensington initiative is beginning with the section of the neighborhood bounded by E Street, Jasper Street, Tioga Street and Indiana Avenue, according to the plan.

“We are going to be making arrests,” Bethel said. “There’s nowhere in America where this should be happening.”

“If I was anywhere else in the city of Philadelphia, no one would ask me a question as to what I’m doing with people who are out there committing crimes, selling drugs, shooting and killing people,” he continued. “And so 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.”

Offers of treatment and the use of harm reduction methods will continue, Bethel said, adding that, “This is not about us going down there and trying to arrest every individual down there.”

“Being unsheltered is not illegal,” he added.

The report indicates that officers assigned to Kensington during the initiative will be instructed to turn on their body-worn cameras while conducting the operation.

A group of City Council members referred to as the Kensington Caucus – Quetcy Lozada, Mike Driscoll, Jim Harrity and Mark Squilla – said in a statement that “increasing the presence of officers to address public safety as a whole is a much needed first step in restoring stability to this community.”

Phase 1, referred to as “warning and opportunity,” began in early March, Bethel said, with police leaders meeting with the community and discussing the plan. Leaflets setting out community standards and listing resources for drug treatment and housing are being distributed, the PPD said.

A sample flier distributed at the news conference states that “behaviors such as public drug use, drug sales and camping are not tolerated” under the title “What to expect this summer.”

Authorities clear a homeless encampment Wednesday, May 9, on Kensington Avenue in Kensington.Stephen Knight

Last month, the Parker administration took its most visible action in the neighborhood, clearing an encampment along Kensington Avenue. City officials said at the time that 55 people accepted offers of shelter, while four entered addiction treatment programs.

The sweep was separate from Bethel’s plan for Kensington, according to the administration.

In future phases, the PPD aims to maintain control of the affected blocks, preventing the return of drug activity. Eventually, the goal is to turn the area back over to residents and have sustained progress, the report says.

“We’re going to work to clear the road, but it will be the community who will step up and take this from us,” Bethel said.