Police academy class, bound for Kensington, graduates

police Kensington
Mayor Cherelle Parker looks on as police academy graduates are sworn in during a ceremony Monday, June 17, at the Temple Performing Arts Center.

A class of 75 Philadelphia police officers were sworn in Monday and received their academy diplomas.

In the coming days, all will be deployed to the epicenter of the region’s opioid epidemic and one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city as part of an initiative to increase enforcement and disrupt the drug trade.

“Every day you go out there to do your work in Kensington, I want you to think about how the people who live there feel when they’ve had to get used to a quality of life that we would not want for anyone else,” Mayor Cherelle Parker told the rookie cops.

Following nine months of training, the officers will be tasked with confronting what Parker described as “one of the worst domestic humanitarian crises in our nation.” Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel later referred to Kensington as “one of the most challenging areas” in the United States.

“Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no playbook for this,” he said at the graduation ceremony. “We are creating that playbook.”

Police academy graduates receive their diplomas Monday, June 17, during a ceremony at the Temple Performing Arts Center.JACK TOMCZUK

Earlier this month, Bethel announced his intention to send the recruits into Kensington to enhance enforcement in accordance with his five-phase strategy. Parker, on one of her first days in office, issued an executive order directing him to craft a plan to shut down the neighborhood’s drug market.

An initial “warning and opportunity” phase began in early March, and the enforcement aspect of the plan is set to begin this week, Bethel said.

The second phase “will be a multi-day initiative that will include arrests for narcotics, prostitution, quality-of-life crimes, and other criminal acts,” according to the administration’s 100-day public safety report.

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

Deploying the cadets will increase the total number of officers assigned to Kensington to 120, according to police officials. Bethel said they will mainly be patrolling the area on foot.

He asked graduates on Monday to imagine themselves as young children from Kensington living in a neighborhood where they do not have to experience gun violence, walk by dealers and witness open drug use.

“That is the day we all look for, and that is the day that will arrive for the Kensington community,” Bethel said.

Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel speaks to academy graduates during a ceremony Monday, June 17, at the Temple Performing Arts Center.JACK TOMCZUK

In future phases of the Kensington initiative, the PPD will aim 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.

“You have the support of the community,” he added. “That is key to this work. This will forever be a part of your legacy moving forward. You will change the lives of so many people and return hope to the hopeless and order to disorder.”

Mayor Cherelle Parker speaks to police academy graduates during a ceremony Monday, June 17, at the Temple Performing Arts Center.JACK TOMCZUK

The class that graduated was the academy’s largest in six years. In addition to the 75 PPD recruits, four cadets went through training for Temple University’s campus police force. Family members crowded into the Temple Performing Arts Center in North Philadelphia for the ceremony.

Parker signed a municipal budget last week that the Mayor’s Office said has funding to hire 400 new police officers, increasing the size and frequency of classes in the academy.

She said she “wholeheartedly” supports the PPD but has “zero tolerance” for any abuse or misuse of power.

“I can’t make good on the promise that I made to the people of the city of Philadelphia without you,” Parker told the graduates.