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Policing the largest drug market on the eastern seaboard: officer perspectives on enforcement and community safety

NCJ Number
Policing: An International Journal Volume: 45 Issue: 5 Dated: August 2022 Pages: 727-740
Date Published
August 2022
14 pages

Purpose: The Kensington transit corridor runs between Huntingdon and Allegheny stations in the Kensington area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is one of the largest illicit drug areas in the country. The authors report qualitative findings from ride-alongs with transit police officers assigned to a vehicle patrol dedicated to reducing the response time to opioid overdoses in and around the transit system (trains and buses) in this large open-air drug market. This study's focus was on management and mitigation of the criminogenic harms associated with the illicit drug environment.


Design/methodology/approach: For ten months, transit officers patrolled the Kensington transit corridor in a dedicated vehicle (callsign "Oscar One"). Oscar One operated during either an early (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) or late (4 p.m. to midnight) shift, between September 2020 and June 2021. 269 shifts were randomly selected for Oscar One from 574 possible shifts. Researchers accompanied Oscar One for 51 observations (19%), 45 of which were completed by the authors. Semi-structured interviews occurred during these shifts, as well as ethnographic field observations. Findings: Four main themes emerged from the study. These centered on the role of law enforcement in a large drug market, the politics of enforcement within the city of Philadelphia, the policing world around risk and proactive engagement post-George Floyd, and the sense of police being overwhelmed on the front-line of community safety. Originality/value: Police officers have a community safety as well as a law enforcement mandate, and this study explores the community safety and harm mitigation role from their perspective. The article draws on their words, based on approximately 400 h of field observation. (Publisher abstract provided)


Date Published: August 1, 2022