Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Monday said 35 people from three drug organizations based in the city’s Kensington section had been arrested and charged with drug dealing, carrying illegal weapons, and participating in corrupt organizations — part of an ongoing attempt by law enforcement to disrupt violence and narcotics distribution in a neighborhood long plagued by both.
At a news conference in Harrowgate, Shapiro said his office and city police this month had seized 20 guns and tens of thousands of doses of drugs, including fentanyl, crack, and xylazine, an animal tranquilizer used to spike other drugs. The announcement came a year after Shapiro’s office and police conducted a similar bust in Kensington that led to 14 arrests and the seizure of several kilograms of heroin and fentanyl.
Shapiro, a Democrat who is seeking reelection in November, cast the case as an example of how law enforcement remains a necessary tool in the fight against violence and to help community residents. Though he did not specifically reference calls by activists and protesters to “defund the police” — a national movement that gained steam in Philadelphia this summer and helped spur Mayor Jim Kenney to reduce a budget increase for the Police Department — Shapiro argued that addressing structural inequities was necessary, along with vigorous policing and prosecution of suspected crimes.
“We reject that poverty or institutionalized indifference and marginalization should mean that some people don’t get to have a safe community to live in,” he said. “We won’t give up on the belief [of] law enforcement showing up in a community to make people feel safer.”
Shapiro largely declined to offer details about the crimes that landed the suspected drug dealers behind bars, saying the investigation was ongoing. He did say that the organizations had worked together to buy fentanyl and xylazine in order for members to sell it. One man, Shapiro said, sold several hundred bundles of fentanyl in hours for tens of thousands of dollars; Shapiro said the organizations collectively were on pace to earn $8 million annually.
Shapiro said the organizations eventually stopped working together and created distribution networks that spread well beyond Kensington. He declined to offer details about what happened.
He also said that during surveillance of the organizations, officers helped prevent five potential shootings. He gave only one example, saying Philadelphia police responded to a tip of an impending drive-by, found the car that was suspected of being involved, and arrested a man carrying a gun.
But not all violence could be prevented, Shapiro said. On Aug. 9, he said, one of the men arrested in this case — he did not say whom — was shot in the back, another had a bullet graze his head while delivering drugs in Northern Liberties, and “later that night, gunfire linked to this investigation occurred in Kensington around 8 p.m.”
Shapiro said police last week executed 30 search warrants in about 24 hours, during which officers recovered the weapons and drugs and made their arrests.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, and City Councilmember Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez offered remarks in support of the effort to reduce the impact of guns and drugs on the city and on Kensington.
Outlaw emphasized that authorities needed to continue investigating crimes and arresting suspected offenders, otherwise the progress of removing suspects and drugs from the street would simply be undone by a new group down the line.
“There has to be accountability,” she said. ““While the work we have done is of extreme importance, we cannot allow ourselves to believe ... that we’ve won.”
Shapiro’s announcement came as gun violence in Philadelphia has surged to the highest level in years. Through Sunday, 292 people had been killed in the city in 2020, a 33% increase compared with the same date last year, and 1,281 people had been shot, a 40% increase over last year’s pace.