Top cop to try something new — enforcement

In what is sure to be unwelcome news to District Attorney Larry “Let ‘em Loose” Krasner, the city of Philadelphia has announced an astonishing New Look — it will enforce drug laws, starting with Kensington, home to the living dead.

Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel believes in enforcing the law (Photo: WHYY)

That might seem an impolite term to some, but when you exist from one fix to the next, when you are filthy and covered with open sores, when your past, present and future are fused into the point of a needle, when you sell your filthy body, or steal from your filthy friends, you are dead. Your heart still beats, but in terms of humanity, you are dead.

And there are some — maybe many — soft-hearted yet empty-headed people who would keep them that way, under the purple flag of compassion.

But this essay is not about safe injection sites, because no injection site is safe. It is not about harm reduction, because no addict is unharmed. This is not about enabling addicts, this is about stopping them. [I am well aware the word “Addict” is seen by some as a pejorative. I intend it to be a pejorative. Being among the living dead is a pejorative.]

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel said he would shut down Kensington’s open-air drug market, perhaps the largest on the East Coast.

First, he said, community groups would put the word out that enforcement is coming. So it shouldn’t be a surprise. God forbid we should give pushers a heart attack.

In addition to drug pushers, drug users would be collared and given a choice between jail and drug treatment.

Where have I heard that before?

From D.A. Krasner? No.

From former Mayor Jim Kenney? No.

From Stu Bykofsky? Yes.

I actually had the gall to note in a previous column that using drugs is against the law, just as is selling them.

Bethel has rediscovered that.

His new policy “would be a natural progression of getting back to just enforcing the laws that haven’t been,” he said, as if discovering the wheel.

“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 not been addressed — will be addressed,” said Bethel.

There’s a new sheriff in town. Can we count on him?

We will find out. He was appointed by the new mayor in town, Cherelle Parker, who was the first mayor to run on a law and order policy since Frank Rizzo. She seems serious about it.

Why didn’t Kenney make law enforcement a thing? He was a woke wimp, deeply invested in the catalog of progressive grievances where responsibilities for one’s misdeeds automatically transfers to societal short fallings. 

Racism, classicism, poverty, income gaps have always been around. They have never before used as excuses. Gender confusion is new, as are micro-aggressions, male toxicity, white fragility, and brazen shoplifting. 

But I digress.

A threshold belief of diversity, equity and inclusion is that anyone not white and male and straight has been stuck with the short end of the stick, or the smallest slice of the pie.

In some cases that is true, as is this: In some of these cases the nonwhite, nonmale, nonstraight person is just not that talented or ambitious.

Yes, I said it.

We do have a criminal class in America, and we always have. And most of the time it is composed of poor people, who are often Black, but even more often white. Almost 60% of U.S. prisoners are white.

About 1% of Americans are in jail, and that seems about right to me. I think at least 1% of Americans are not honest. When they steal or murder or rape or sell drugs and get caught, they get put in jail.

Back to Philly. When Bethel starts actually locking up the criminals, he’s sure to hear cries of “mass incarceration.” Hopefully, he will ignore that. 

He’s sure to hear cries about how he’s creating a pipeline to jail.

He ought to ignore that, too.

He has promised he won’t just push the drug dealers, drug addicts, prostitutes, and thieves from Kensington into other neighborhoods. That will be a good trick, if he can avoid it.

It is far kinder to force addicts into treatment than allow them to remain zombies, which “harm reduction” policies do.

Let’s try enforcing the law because we know that not enforcing it doesn’t work.

20 thoughts on “Top cop to try something new — enforcement”

  1. I predict that this will be as successful as the 50+ year War on Drugs begun by President Nixon. It’s just a game of whack a mole, the users will leave Kensington and pop up elsewhere.

    If history teaches us anything, it’s that human nature doesn’t change. Since there is always demand, there is always supply. Wash, rinse, repeat.

    Show me where I’m wrong.

      1. Comparing apples and oranges. Cigs were never illegal. Smoking was once “cool”, nearly half of all adults smoked, now it is less so, and prices are higher. And everyone knows they cause cancer now so the risk/reward incentives are different.

        People do respond to incentives. If prices of illegal drugs go up, people will use them less. But in the case of opioids, we have a 50+ year history of failure. We crack down on heroin, they invent fentanyl. Now there are new opioids even stronger than fentanyl. How do you propose to stop them?

        1. Stop them two ways:
          Interdict at the border, while pressuring supplier nations to knock it off. China is now the main problem. Used to be Colombia, but that has settled down.
          #2 Jail the pushers. You say others will take their place? Jail them, too. Long sentences.
          Is it a sure win? No. But what we have been doing has not been working.
          Unfortunately, unlike cigs, we can’t tax fentanyl into oblivion.

          1. I think Andrew is right that pure “supply-side” attacks are doomed to failure. Smoking wasn’t just taxed–it went from being cool to stupid. The dishonesty of the tobacco companies was exposed, place restrictions were imposed, insurance companies and employers pushed and funded smoking cessation programs–in other words, a whole constellation of actions made it less attractive to smoke. Tobacco states didn’t raise taxes, and even they saw a decline in smoking, though a bit smaller than the rest of the country.

            Demand is the issue. Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” campaign was laughed at and laughable, but it is the right general idea. Wrong message from the wrong source. That’s why I think treatment, even coerced treatment, as opposed to jail, is a step in the right direction. (Safe injection sites, on the other hand, do nothing to suppress demand). We’ve spent over a trillion dollars on the “drug war.” The feds spent $39 billion on it in the last year alone. Add in state and local spending and the costs are astronomical. Stu, is your prescription that we double or triple that?

            If the notion is that we need to devote more resources to fighting drugs, I’d say one thing we should do is make treatment for addiction free, at a fraction of what we are spending on the drug war. (The ACA requires that insurance companies and medicaid cover rehab services. Thank Obama. But there are still restrictions and limitations). That, not “safe injection sites” is “harm mitigation.”

            As a matter of fact, opioid addicts with Medicaid are more likely to use rehab services than those with private insurance–probably because poverty + drug addiction is more devastating than having resources that let one stay afloat to a degree. (Lots of interesting stats here: So, it seems to me, Medicaid expansion, or other free treatment, is an important element in fighting the bad societal effects of drug use.

            The libertarian streak in me says let people do drugs, so long as they do no harm to others. (As John Prine sang about pot “Please tell the Man I didn’t kill anyone, I just want to have me some fun.”) The problem is “externalities”–that is, when drug use infringes on the rights of others, as in Kennsington, and downgrades quality of life for everyone else. Nobody thinks (or at least I don’t) that we really need a massive drug war to keep folks like RFK, Jr (14 years of heroin addiction) or Matt Gaetz (alleged sex/drug parties) or Hunter Biden (cocaine), not to mention rock and movie stars, or coked-out day-traders “safe” from themselves. Start down that road, and you are banning soda pop, fatty foods, football, motorcycles, mountain climbing, hang-gliding, and yeah, alcohol all over again.

            On the other hand, my do-gooder streak doesn’t want the crime and community destruction of unrestricted and unimpeded drug-use. It seems to me such “success stories” we have had, such as the long-term reduction in smoking and drunk driving (except for the spike during covid) were due to a combination of factors, including education, PR, societal pressure and treatment options.

            That doesn’t mean that criminal law is no part of the solution, and I have no panacea, or even a Bykofsky-style proposal. But, as in the case of smoking and alcohol, I have to believe there are strategies to mitigate, if not minimize, the societal problems without fueling vast criminal networks and expending vast sums with little to show for it.

          2. I hear you. I understand the opposing POV.
            As to the “cool” factor, though, being an addict is cool?
            I keep reading, but I am unsure, that the majority started on legit painkillers and got sucked in. But I don’t believe it.

    1. The addicts in Kensington aremt like the addicts 30 yrs ago in the crack wars . The majority of today’s addicts got injured and were prescribed legal opiod painkillers and got hooked and eventually ended up in Kensington.
      The science/ research shows that the % success rate of forced rehab is the same as voluntary rehab . So whats the downside to forcing 2000 people into rehab and havign X% get clean instead of having 50 people volunteer for it and gettign the same X% success?
      Ive never understood how ” waiting for the addicts to ask for help ” is the humane approach

      1. How long can you wait for the Kensington addict to ask for help? How about the hard working families with kids that live in Kensington they deserve to be able to walk to work or school without stepping over addicts. The store owners deserve to be able to conduct their business without addicts laying on the pavement outside their stores. It’s time to first take action against the drug dealers. Dealers should be arrested and given maximum sentences. If they are illegal aliens they should be deported. The addicts should be given the choice of a rehab or going to jail. This would be a start in trying to fix the Kensington drug problem, that is shown on TV throughout the world, showing Philadelphia ( the City of Brotherly Love) as a heartless city. At least our Mayor and Police Commissioner are taking steps to rectify the problem plaguing our city for many years.

    2. Andrew, I’m no fan of the war on the drugs, but I think you should consider the treatment option from a slightly different perspective. Instead of a criminal sanction, maybe view it as “involuntary commitment.” It is not illegal to be insane or delusional (else the streets would be empty, and the world would probably be a less interesting place). However, when one becomes a danger to oneself and others, the law allows involuntary commitment for treatment.

      Maybe a closer analogy is DUI. It endangers the public and we don’t wait for an accident to enforce it. Folks who get a DUI are often allowed a “treatment option” in lieu of a criminal penalty. We don’t arrest people for selling alcohol anymore (unless it is to minors), but public drunkenness (or at least “drunk and disorderly”), mere “possession” of open liquor in the car, and even public drinking (hence the wino’s iconic paper bag) remain illegal. I agree that most of the evils of the drug trade are due to the illegality. But that does not mean all laws, or at least aspects of them, that address the harms imposed on the public are counter-productive. DUI enforcement, and heck, all law enforcement is a game of whack-a-mole. We will never bring crime of any kind to zero. Law enforcement itself is nothing but a “mitigation strategy.”

      There is no comparison between the penitentiary and drug treatment. I know folks who have (successfully) gone through drug treatment. Although they did not go there through the criminal justice system, they were in places with some folks who got there that way–and were glad to be there–if nothing else, because they got “three hots and a cot” as they called it. Something they didn’t have on the streets. The treatment option is at least part way to decriminalization, as in, it ain’t jail. Without the diversion to treatment, arrests for possession would be counterproductive. I don’t know what the law precisely says, but if it is missing, I’d add expungement of conviction for those who successfully complete treatment.

  2. I had just parked next to Macy’s downtown and who comes walking along but “Let em Loose Larry.”

    The words of Maxine Waters, that oracle in Congress, rang in my mind, “When you see them in the streets, in restaurants and in their homes, surround them and make a Ruckus so they know that we are here and will not be silenced.” Something bizarre like that.

    Yes, I was tempted to make a Ruckus at that man, that Lex Luther single handedly destroying our city. It seems, though, that Kevin Bethel may make his own city realigning Ruckus by returning the rule of law to Philadelphia, steamrolling Let em Loose Larry flat into oblivion.

    Go Kevin, 99% of us encourage you to make that sort of a Ruckus.

  3. The police commissioner should receive 100% support in this effort. The worst that can happen is that nothing changes; but maybe, just maybe, real change might begin to happen.

    1. Agreed Vince. While I am somewhat skeptical based on past performances I agree Commissioner Bethel should receive 100 percent in this effort.

      1. 100% yes of course, ideally, but don’t you suppose the 1% criminals out there do not support being locked up.

  4. For so many recent years in Phila., the word “law” has become a “four-letter-word.” Hopefully the new Comish can turn it back to its original formulation as its original spelling and intention was meant to be.

  5. Hoping for the success of our police commissioner and police department. When the complaints come in from Councilman Thomas (author of driving bill ) that police are confronting and arresting people without cause, the ability of the Mayor and Commissioner to explain and justify police actions will determine the success of the department’s efforts to reduce crime. Community support is vital for crime reduction efforts to succeed. Pay attention to who will be organizing protests against these efforts for their own political benefit. Anyone who worked, lived or drove through our Kensington area sees it is as a 3rd world neighborhood. I know that is insulting to the hard working people who live there but nowhere in America are conditions so deplorable. So we will know the success of the program in 18 months by evaluating, are the streets clean, the abandomins are sealed up, the sidewalks are free of tents and pedestrians can walk freely on Kensington Ave without harassment, shooting and robberies are reduced significantly. Prostitution and drug possession cases are made to force addicts into treatment. Mr. Krasner needs to end his ROR policies and have defendants post bail for their criminal behavior.

  6. Fascinating[to me] sidenote-watching a Jerry Blavat early 60s tv danceparty video a fresh scrubbed kid with shirt and tie is asked up.”where are you from?” asks Blavat.”kensington and Allegheny “he proudly chirps.

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