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Philadelphia’s ‘billion-dollar drug market’ is home to a third of all drug-law violations with 376 arrests per square mile compared to just 16 in other parts of city

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A single Philadelphia neighborhood known for its open-air drug use accounts for more than a third of the city’s drug-law violations, statistics show.

Cops in Kensington recorded 921 narcotics and drug-law violations in 2023 – an alarming rate considering the 1,630 offenses that took place elsewhere.

Those crimes were recorded across roughly 150 distinct neighborhoods – none of which even came close to boasting a rate like the notorious nabe known widely to locals and beyond as ‘The Badlands.’

Kensington earned that moniker back in 1992, from fed-up narcotic cops peeved by the area’s then-bustling drug economy. Back then, the $250million market was mostly underground – a dynamic that’s since shifted as enforcement laws have eased.

This has resulted in people shooting up and ingesting drugs like fentanyl in the streets, leading to some 376 violations per square mile – compared with a rate of 16 for the rest of the city.

Kensington last year accounted for more than a third of Philadelphia's drug-law violations, statistics show.

Kensington last year accounted for more than a third of Philadelphia’s drug-law violations, statistics show.

Cops in the notorious neighborhood known for its open drug use recorded 921 narcotics and drug-law violations in 2023 - an alarming rate considering the 1,630 offenses that took place across the city. A Kensington crime scene where a homicide occurred this month is seen here

Cops in the notorious neighborhood known for its open drug use recorded 921 narcotics and drug-law violations in 2023 – an alarming rate considering the 1,630 offenses that took place across the city. A Kensington crime scene where a homicide occurred this month is seen here

The concentration of drug crime in the neighborhood has since surfaced as a talking point, with many mortified by the sight of people nodding out on the streets and openly injecting drugs.

Other footage from neighborhood regularly shows users passed out on the sidewalks, often in front of shuttered stores.

Others show people picking at open wounds in plain view of the public, in scenes that appear to be straight out of San Francisco.

But the crimes are – and for years have been – happening in the municipality named for its ‘Brotherly Love’,  and whose government is finally taking notice of the state of its streets, Kensington in particular.

In comments to The Philadelphia Inquirer, residents, leaders, and current and ex-city officials alike outlined how politicians are to blame for Kensington’s downfall, which, if the year-end statistics are to be taken seriously, is now at a breaking point.

Citing other startling statistics such as Kensington housing more than a-third of the city’s known homeless population, the CEO of Impact Services, one of Kensington’s three large community development nonprofits, offered her take.

‘Kensington has brought both international embarrassment and a sense of urgency to deal with what’s happening,’ said Casey O’Donnell, as clips showing drug use in the neighborhood continues to gain traction online. 

Those crimes were recorded across roughly 150 distinct neighborhoods - none of which even came close to boasting a rate like the notorious nabe known widely as 'The Badlands'

Those crimes were recorded across roughly 150 distinct neighborhoods – none of which even came close to boasting a rate like the notorious nabe known widely as ‘The Badlands’

Kensington earned that moniker back in 1992, from fed-up narcotic cops peeved by the area's then-bustling drug economy

Kensington earned that moniker back in 1992, from fed-up narcotic cops peeved by the area’s then-bustling drug economy

Back then, the $250million market was mostly underground - a dynamic that's shifted as enforcement laws have eased

Back then, the $250million market was mostly underground – a dynamic that’s shifted as enforcement laws have eased

This has resulted in people shooting up and ingesting drugs like fentanyl in the streets, leading to some 376 violations per square mile - compared with a rate of 16 for the rest of the city

This has resulted in people shooting up and ingesting drugs like fentanyl in the streets, leading to some 376 violations per square mile – compared with a rate of 16 for the rest of the city

The issues, residents and city officials have said, stem from local legislation - laws that saw Philadelphia become so overwhelmed by drug-fueled crime under Democratic DA Larry Krasner (pictured) that failure to crack down on crime led to his impeachment in 2022

The issues, residents and city officials have said, stem from local legislation – laws that saw Philadelphia become so overwhelmed by drug-fueled crime under Democratic DA Larry Krasner (pictured) that failure to crack down on crime led to his impeachment in 2022

However, as of writing, he remains in office - as certain pockets of the city remain overrun

However, as of writing, he remains in office – as certain pockets of the city remain overrun

‘But that urgency and embarrassment does not translate to effective problem solving,’ she said, as the city’s new police commissioner, Kevin Bethel, declared last month that Kensington could soon see stricter enforcement of drug crimes, as early as April. 

But, as executive director of the economic development nonprofit HACE Maria Gonzalez put it to The Inquirer Monday, ‘The problems are so deep’, that one course of action cannot hope to provide a solution.

The issues, she and others said, stem from local legislation – laws that saw Philadelphia become so overwhelmed by drug-fueled crime under Democratic DA Larry Krasner that failure to crack down on crime led to his impeachment in 2022. 

However, more than a year later, he remains in office after his trial was indefinitely postponed – after previously billing himself to voters as a ‘progressive prosecutor.’

In January, officials appeared to pivot from the two-term politician’s lax laws – which included the dropping drug possession charges at a frightening pace.

That happened with the appointment of Bethel, who was named to the post by the city’s equally green mayor, Cherelle Parker.

In January, officials appeared to pivot from the two-term politician's lax laws, with new Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel promising a crackdown just a few weeks ago

In January, officials appeared to pivot from the two-term politician’s lax laws, with new Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel promising a crackdown just a few weeks ago

New mayor Cherelle Parker has also said it will be her mission to address neighborhoods like Kensington's woes, which have worsened over the decades due to reforms surrounding drug-related offenses

New mayor Cherelle Parker has also said it will be her mission to address neighborhoods like Kensington’s woes, which have worsened over the decades due to reforms surrounding drug-related offenses

Both have made promises to address Kensington's rapidly diminishing state, with Bethel hinting at an in-the-works plan to address what he referred to as 'open-air drug market[s]' in Kensington. Seen here is one of many encampment busts in the city, this one back in 2018

Both have made promises to address Kensington’s rapidly diminishing state, with Bethel hinting at an in-the-works plan to address what he referred to as ‘open-air drug market[s]’ in Kensington. Seen here is one of many encampment busts in the city, this one back in 2018

Police block off roads and gather evidence as they investigate a shooting near the Kensington area in Philadelphia on St. Patrick's Day Weekend

Police block off roads and gather evidence as they investigate a shooting near the Kensington area in Philadelphia on St. Patrick’s Day Weekend

First, though, Bethel said community groups would work to spread awareness of the new enforcement plan, and undertaking that he said would merely consist of people warning those who use or sell drugs on the street that they need to leave and seek treatment

First, though, Bethel said community groups would work to spread awareness of the new enforcement plan, and undertaking that he said would merely consist of people warning those who use or sell drugs on the street that they need to leave and seek treatment

That, or they could soon face arrest, the top cop declared. Pictured, a person walking through the Kensington neighborhood in 2021

That, or they could soon face arrest, the top cop declared. Pictured, a person walking through the Kensington neighborhood in 2021

'They will now be able to say... "There is going to be a heightened level of enforcement, and things that you have previously been able to do on the streets - openly using drugs, defecating on properties, threatening, stealing, those things that have historically been not addressed - will be addressed,"' he said - before optimistically adding, 'I'm hopeful'

‘They will now be able to say… “There is going to be a heightened level of enforcement, and things that you have previously been able to do on the streets – openly using drugs, defecating on properties, threatening, stealing, those things that have historically been not addressed – will be addressed,”‘ he said – before optimistically adding, ‘I’m hopeful’

Both have made promises to address Kensington’s rapidly diminishing state, with Bethel hinting at an in-the-works plan to address what he referred to as ‘open-air drug market[s]’ in Kensington back in February. 

‘It would be a natural progression of getting back to just enforcing the laws that have not been,’ he said at the time, a little more than a month after he was appointed.

First, though, he said community groups would work to spread awareness of the new enforcement plan, and undertaking that he said would merely consist of people warning those who use or sell drugs on the street that they need to leave and seek treatment. 

That, or they could soon face arrest, the top cop declared.

‘They will now be able to say… “There is going to be a heightened level of enforcement, and things that you have previously been able to do on the streets – openly using drugs, defecating on properties, threatening, stealing, those things that have historically been not addressed – will be addressed,”‘ he said – before optimistically adding, ‘I’m hopeful.’

Bethel went on to add how Parker’s administration, along with the department, is unwavering in its resolve to make sure the people currently taking to Kensington’s streets don’t just disperse to other, nearby neighborhoods.

He would not, however, say how he and other officers would go about that, or what services would be offered.

He did state that drug encampments – like the ones that currently litter Kensington Avenue – will not be tolerated, despite the department carrying out busts on such sites for the past six or so years. 

‘We’re not going to move this to another area. We’re not going to allow, you know, open-air drug market two, three, four, or five. That is not happening,’ he said.

Kensington's streets are littered with syringes, garbage and homeless encampments, with addicts dealing and using drugs in broad daylight. One addict holds a syringe in his mouth in December

Kensington’s streets are littered with syringes, garbage and homeless encampments, with addicts dealing and using drugs in broad daylight. One addict holds a syringe in his mouth in December

The concentration of drug crime in the neighborhood has since surfaced as a talking point, with many mortified by the sight of people nodding out on the streets and openly injecting drugs

The concentration of drug crime in the neighborhood has since surfaced as a talking point, with many mortified by the sight of people nodding out on the streets and openly injecting drugs 

Drug users are pictured sprawled in the park, waiting for their next fix. The city of Philadelphia is struggling to cope with the surge in use of new drugs like xylazine, colloquially known as 'tranq'. The injectable drug often leaves sores and wounds on users' skin

Drug users are pictured sprawled in the park, waiting for their next fix. The city of Philadelphia is struggling to cope with the surge in use of new drugs like xylazine, colloquially known as ‘tranq’. The injectable drug often leaves sores and wounds on users’ skin

Drugs are openly used and passed round with many bent over in a trance-like state. Pictured, the problem area in December

Drugs are openly used and passed round with many bent over in a trance-like state. Pictured, the problem area in December

Kensington's streets are littered with syringes, garbage and homeless encampments, with addicts dealing and using drugs in broad daylight

Kensington’s streets are littered with syringes, garbage and homeless encampments, with addicts dealing and using drugs in broad daylight

A man is resuscitated by emergency workers on Kensington Avenue

A man is resuscitated by emergency workers on Kensington Avenue

There, use of drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and new creation xylazine persists, to the point where even longtime residents told the Inquirer that the state of the neighborhood is even worse than it was in the 90s

There, use of drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and new creation xylazine persists, to the point where even longtime residents told the Inquirer that the state of the neighborhood is even worse than it was in the 90s 

Users are seen shooting up in the middle of the day

Users are seen shooting up in the middle of the day 

'We’ve empathized. We’ve given food. We’ve given water - only to get back that we can’t walk outside any more with open-toed shoes,' said one resident of policies implemented by people like Kasner that's gotten to them to this point. 'This is not a community. This is a public crisis'

‘We’ve empathized. We’ve given food. We’ve given water – only to get back that we can’t walk outside any more with open-toed shoes,’ said one resident of policies implemented by people like Kasner that’s gotten to them to this point. ‘This is not a community. This is a public crisis’

He would not commit to a specific timeline for when the new strategy will begin, but said the first phase will start shortly after Mayor Parker’s 100th day in office.

That’s not until early April – but the communication phase, he said, ‘will not be a long-term process.

‘All I can say is that we will give it enough time for people to make an informed decision as to what they want to do,’ he told onlookers, day before a shooting in Kensington left one person dead after more than 30 shots were fired.

As part of the plan, Bethe; said police will not ‘occupy’ Kensington, but instead work alongside community members and business owners to begin enforcing laws.

Meanwhile, use of drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and new creation xylazine persists, to the point where even longtime residents told the Inquirer that the state of the neighborhood is even worse than it was in the 90s.

‘We’ve empathized. We’ve given food. We’ve given water – only to get back that we can’t walk outside any more with open-toed shoes,’ said Kiara Lynn Garcia of policies implemented by people like Kasner that’s gotten to them to this point.

Claiming that the time for empathy has passed and that what’s needed now is action, she concluded: ‘This is not a community. This is a public crisis.’



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