Pubdate: Wed,  1 May 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Robert Moran


The city's Operation Safe Streets is to begin today.

Mayor Street said the city's new narcotics crackdown - the targeting of 300 
open-air drug markets starting today - will be unprecedented not only in 
Philadelphia, but in the country.

"I don't know of anything like this in a big city - an operation of this 
order of magnitude," Street said yesterday. "It's never happened in an 
American city."

The citywide campaign will be called Operation Safe Streets.

Hundreds of officers will be redeployed across Philadelphia to 300 known 
drug corners and blocks based on information compiled by police districts 
and cross-checked by the department's Narcotics Bureau, police sources said.

"You're going to see police officers where you saw those drug dealers," 
Street said. "We're going to be right where they are."

And the mayor declared confidently: "We're going to put all those people 
out of business."

Such bold pronouncements raise the political stakes for Street. The 
operation, at a minimum, must make significant headway into a problem seen 
as intractable, and by some, unwinnable.

The critics and pessimists, Street said, should "wait and see."

Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson said the operation will last "as 
long as it takes."

The strategy is not to make mass arrests, the mayor said, but to disrupt 
street sales of drugs with police stationed at hot spots of narcotics activity.

"This is going to have a huge disruptive effect," Street said. "Their 
customers won't know how to find them."

Said James Alan Fox, professor of criminal justice at Northeastern 
University in Boston: "That's a strategy that's been tried before with 

Charleston, S.C., effectively employed a similar strategy, Fox said, 
"basically making it inconvenient to do business."

A similar operation in a section of New York City also had success, said 
James J. Fyfe, professor of law and police science at the John Jay College 
of Criminal Justice in New York.

Chicago has had an ongoing policy of aggressive policing against open-air 
drug sales, forcing such activity indoors, Fyfe said.

Street said he expects Philadelphia's police operation to have a similar 
effect, but drug dealers who move to abandoned buildings will face the 
threat of the city's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, in which 
16,000 buildings are slated to be razed over three years.

Crucial First Step

Getting rid of brazen outdoor drug dealing is an important first step, 
Street said.

"You can't even pretend to transform neighborhoods if you have [hundreds 
of] open-air drug markets operating in the city," he said.

Police commanders recently got their marching orders in an internal 
document that declared: "The main purpose of the operation is to reduce 
drug sales to zero."

At roll calls, patrol officers will be required to watch two videos: one 
describing how a drug corner works; the other reviewing the legal issues 
related to stopping, searching and detaining civilians.

Stefan Presser, legal director of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties 
Union, said he was eager to see the latter videotape. He speculated that 
the tape was an indication that good planning had gone into the operation.

"In some ways, I dare say, it's long overdue," Presser said of the 
operation. "Putting aside my hat as a civil libertarian, I live in this city."

But, he added, the operation must abide by constitutional requirements.

In 1985, the police launched Operation Cold Turkey, in which officers made 
mass arrests at 51 city locations identified as drug-trafficking areas.

The ACLU quickly went to court, and eventually the city agreed to pay 
nearly $500,000 divided among 1,444 people who were stopped or searched by 

Few Sunrise Complaints

In contrast, Operation Sunrise, launched in 1998, drew few complaints.

The police led a fight against drugs and blight in Kensington and North 
Philadelphia, with the help of other city agencies that cleaned abandoned 
houses and towed abandoned vehicles.

Now Operation Safe Streets takes the battle against drug dealing citywide.

To help with the redeployment, some police now on desk duty will be 
assigned to the street.

"As I understand, there are no sacred cows," said Lt. Michael Chitwood. 
"Everybody's going to be asked to participate."

How the operation might affect police overtime is unclear, Street said.

"We don't know how much it's going to cost," he said, "but we think in the 
long run it's going to save us money."

Such savings, for example, could be realized in reduced prison costs as a 
result of fewer arrests, Street said.

But the ultimate payoff, Street said, would be in the quality of life, in 
which residents enjoy their neighborhoods "in a way that hasn't been 
possible in a long time."
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