Pubdate: Mon, 29 Apr 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Robert Moran


The goal is prevention and deterrence rather than arrests, the police 
commissioner said - and the campaign will last "as long as it takes."

The Philadelphia Police Department is expected to launch its largest 
antidrug operation ever this week: an unprecedented campaign to disrupt 
narcotics trafficking citywide.

"We're going to take back this city - basically in one day," said Police 
Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson.

He said details of the effort would be revealed before the police move ahead.

At Johnson's swearing-in as commissioner on April 17, Mayor Street hinted 
at the upcoming operation with the vow that Philadelphia's "approximately 
300 open-air drug markets will not be tolerated in this city anymore."

"I know we can't end everything in one day," Johnson said in an interview 
late last week. But the police "will sustain [the operation] as long as it 

Those words echo what Johnson repeatedly said as the department rolled out 
Operation Sunrise, a police-led effort to fight drugs and blight in 
Kensington and North Philadelphia, in 1998.

At the time, the effort was the largest Philadelphia police anticrime 
action since the disastrous MOVE assault in 1985.

Operation Sunrise fared far better. The campaign, in which police 
cooperated with other city agencies cleaning up abandoned houses and towing 
abandoned vehicles, has been widely credited with improving the quality of 
life in those neighborhoods.

Despite a record number of arrests, police were careful in choosing their 
targets, avoiding the mass sweeps that provoked civil-liberties questions 
about some previous police crackdowns.

In a recent interview, Johnson, the key architect of Operation Sunrise, 
said he was not satisfied with the results.

"We were effective as far as law enforcement was concerned," he said, "but 
I think the quality of life wasn't really changing the way that I thought 
it should change."

Operation Sunrise, with more than 20,000 arrests to date, has driven drug 
arrests to record levels.

In 1997, there were 8,682 drug arrests. Last year, the city reached an 
all-time high with 24,845 drug arrests.

The court system was not prepared for the massive influx of defendants; as 
more and more defendants have been locked up, judges have been throwing out 
cases with increasing frequency.

Because of aggressive policing, however, open-air drug markets are not as 
brazen as they once were.

Johnson said he wants to shift the focus from arrests toward prevention and 
deterrence. That will be achieved, he said, by greatly increasing the 
visibility and activity of police in the worst drug areas.

That strategy will be reflected in the new operation beginning this week.

It was tested early last year when the Police Department modified the 
fourth and final phase of Operation Sunrise in the city's Fairhill section.

Rather than go on an arrest binge, the police focused on higher visibility 
and frequent patrols.

The effort is credited with helping to clean up the area around Ninth 
Street and Indiana Avenue, once regarded as the worst drug corner in the city.

In the 25th Police District, which includes Ninth and Indiana, the number 
of homicides plunged from 81 in 1997 to 26 last year - a fall of two-thirds.

Anytime he talks about drugs, Johnson repeats to anyone who will listen: 
"Law enforcement will never solve this problem. We will never arrest our 
way out of this problem."

But he says the police can help communities take back their neighborhoods.

"Our intention is to change the quality of life," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom