To read this content please select one of the options below:

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

Jerry H. Ratcliffe (Department of Criminal Justice, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Hayley Wight (Department of Criminal Justice, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 9 June 2022

Issue publication date: 24 August 2022

141

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III and the officers and supervisors of District 4 in helping make this research possible. The graphic style for Figure 1 (also replicated as the background for Figure 2) is adapted from a map by John Duchneskie in the Philadelphia Inquirer published on October 24, 2021. While this research was supported by a grant to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the SEPTA Police Department, the Department of Justice, or the government of the United States.

Funding: This project was supported by a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (2018-AR-BX-K078) to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

Citation

Ratcliffe, J.H. and Wight, H. (2022), "Policing the largest drug market on the eastern seaboard: officer perspectives on enforcement and community safety", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 45 No. 5, pp. 727-740. https://doi.org/10.1108/PIJPSM-12-2021-0172

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles