The Philadelphia Police Department began a new phase in its war on drugs this week, stationing officers on some of the city’s worst drug corners as part of what they are calling “Operation Safe Streets.”
Mayor Street seems confident the plan will eradicate Philadelphia’s drug problem by pushing dealers off the streets and, hopefully, out of the city. The operation’s scale is larger than that of “Operation Sunrise,” but the goals are far different. While Sunrise focused on arrests, Safe Streets is focusing on disruption of drug sales, forcing drug dealers from those neighborhoods and out of the “open air.”
One question that has yet to be asked is: “What is the difference between drug dealing on a street corner and an abandoned building?” The crime is still occurring; is it better when it is out of the public eye?
Despite these early doubts, this is an imaginative, and politically risky move on the part of the city and deserves to be applauded especially for a problem many believe does not have a solution.
Obviously, Mayor Street and new Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson are willing to put their necks out if they think a difference can be made. But Street does have to be careful; it would appear as though he is betting all of his chips on the success of his anti-blight and anti-drug campaigns. If those fail, so could his bid for re-election.
Street claims that no other major American city has attempted such a feat; he also believes that this operation will clean out the worst areas of the city.
There goes Street, getting overly exuberant again. While the move into crime-ridden neighborhoods is a positive step, Street needs to tone down the rhetoric. Most Philadelphians will support the measure, so quotes like “We’re going to put all of those people out of business” are unnecessary and slightly ridiculous.
No one actually believes the drug pushers will be forced “out of business” by Safe Streets; so why make a politically risky measure decidedly more so by making promises you cannot keep?
Police are targeting 300 to 500 drug corners in areas including such high-crime locations as 12th and Huntingdon, Price and Crittenden streets and the 7200 block of Greenway Avenue.
That is a massive undertaking for officers without Street claiming to have discovered the ultimate solution to the ever-present drug problem.
Johnson, on the other hand, is keeping his statements much more measured. He vowed to continue police patrols for as long as it takes to clean up the streets, but hasn’t been quoted to say he has stumbled upon a miracle cure.
Yes, police stationed on some of the most dangerous corners in Philadelphia may make area residents feel safer, however, those officers will not be there forever. And regardless of the claims and rhetoric flowing endlessly from the mouths of Street and Johnson, the city may be temporarily better for the operation, but long-term recuperation will require a Herculean effort.
Operation Safe Streets may be a good start, but it certainly not the solution.