“Most of your crime is associated with drugs. The stealing and the shootings, the robberies and the home invasions, are committed by people trying to get money for drugs,” Philadelphia Police Officer Greg Barber told me some years ago.
Barber explained the effects of drugs as I accompanied him and his partner, Theresa Weaver, and other officers from the Philadelphia Police Narcotics Field Unit South officers as they raided drug houses in Southwest Philly.
I recently spoke to Chief Inspector Christopher Flacco, the commanding officer of the Philadelphia Police Narcotics Bureau, and I asked him if the COVID-19 lockdown has changed the drug scene in Philadelphia.
“It’s remained the same. People still need their narcotics to fill their habits, and they still are selling on the street corners,” Flacco said.
I asked if the introduction of fentanyl has made an impact.
“The problem with fentanyl is that sometimes people are buying what they think is heroin and it has fentanyl mixed in with it. Their body doesn’t have any resilience to it, and that’s where you get the ODs from,” Flacco said.
“But when addicts hear about somebody overdosing on a particular street-name drug, like ‘Green Stamp,’ they will flock to buy it because they are chasing that better high. They want the purer, better drug.”
“The sale of narcotics is devastating to the community. Neighborhoods are under siege because they have drug dealers out on their street.”– Christopher Flacco
He said that heroin and fentanyl are addictive and dangerous, as one has to inject it, but fentanyl also comes in pill form, which a user can simply crush and snort.
Flacco explained that the Narcotics Bureau consists of three parts. One is the Strike Force, which has uniformed officers who patrol either in radio patrol cars or on bikes. They are responsible for suppressing street-level sales. The second part is the Narcotics Field Unit, which has plainclothes officers who are responsible for enforcing narcotics trafficking in drug houses. The third part consists of officers who are assigned to federal and state task forces, such as the FBI, the DEA and the Attorney General’s Office. He said the Narcotics Bureau has an excellent relationship with its state and federal partners.
Dealing with narcotics is incredibly dangerous, Flacco noted, and he mentioned the narcotics operation that resulted in a shootout on 15th Street in August of 2019 that attracted nationwide news coverage. Narcotic officers served a warrant on a man who then barricaded himself in the home and began firing on the officers. Eight police officers were shot in the standoff before the man surrendered.
“Narcotics bring in a hell of a lot of money, and the dealers are trying to protect their turf with force and weapons. It is a very dangerous business,” Flacco said.
“When we serve search warrants on houses where illicit drugs are being sold, it is not unusual to find numerous illegal weapons in that house, from rifles and shotguns to handguns.
“Drug dealing and guns go hand-in-hand.”
Flacco said there are various drug organizations that control different corners in the city. He noted that one part of Kensington Avenue is controlled by one organization, and half a block away there is another drug organization. He said there are numerous drug organizations operating in the city, as well as numerous organizations that bring drugs into the city.
“The sale of narcotics is devastating to the community. Neighborhoods are under siege because they have drug dealers out on their street. Neighbors can’t walk on the street and the family can’t sit on the front step,” Flacco said.
“Drugs are also detrimental to businesses because people don’t want to come into the neighborhoods anymore. And people are afraid of the violence that comes with narcotics. It is a damn disgrace.”
“Narcotics bring in a hell of a lot of money, and the dealers are trying to protect their turf with force and weapons. It is a very dangerous business.”– Christopher Flacco
Flacco said one can buy drugs anywhere in the city, but the East Division is the genesis. He said the vast majority of the drugs sold in Philadelphia enter and pass through the city through the East Division. The East Division is also the nexus for drugs leaving the city to be sold in outside communities. He added that the drugs in the East Division act as a magnet for homeless addicts who erect makeshift enclosures and use the street as a toilet.
“There is an addicted homeless population of about 400 to 600 in the East Division, which is the 24th and 25th Districts. That’s a problem the city is working very hard on rectifying.”
Flacco said the Narcotics Bureau seized more than 500 illegal guns and $72 million in street value in illegal narcotics in 2020. They also seized more than $14 million in U.S. currency, despite the COVID-19 epidemic.
“There is too much profit in the drug game for them to care about a world pandemic,” Flacco said.
“Dealing narcotics is a felony, and it needs to be treated with stiff prison sentences and forfeitures.”
Paul Davis’ Crime Beat column appears here each week.