WORD UP: It Takes A Village To Raze A Drug Dealer


INQUIRER: The young men had been summoned to the ornate room in City Hall because police had determined that they were the ones most likely to shoot or be shot. After months of intelligence huddles, police and prosecutors had identified the 45 South Philadelphia corner boys who shuffled into the courtroom that spring morning as “impact players” – possible triggermen – in violent street crews. Flanking the lectern were neighbors, outreach workers, and city and federal law enforcement officials, including Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and District Attorney Seth Williams.

They had rehearsed their message as part of a new strategy they call Focused Deterrence, which combats gang gun violence through outreach and targeted enforcement. They did not want them to die, they told the group. They did not want to send them to jail. They wanted to help. But if the men or any of their friends squeezed a trigger, their entire crew would experience the weight of the law like never before. The whole group would pay. No matter who pulled the trigger.

Cops would swarm, they were warned. And there would be stiffer jail sentences, higher bails, the revisiting of stalled cases, stricter probation, and parole enforcement, and even crackdowns on child-support failings, welfare fraud, and utility thefts. From now on, after a shooting, Peco would inspect gang members’ homes. If they were stealing electricity, their lights would be shut off. The crew members and their friends were now at the top of everybody’s list, Ramsey said. First in line for job training and other support services, but also squarely in the sights of law enforcement.

This was not a negotiation, he said. The shootings had to stop.

These were not empty threats.

Six months after that April meeting – or “call-in” – authorities are touting the targeted enforcement as contributing to significant reductions in shootings and homicides in South Division, where the effort was rolled out. While shootings and homicides are down throughout the city, the drop in South Philadelphia is striking. Compared with last year, shootings in South Philadelphia are down 43 percent, falling to 22 since the start of Focused Deterrence from 39 for the same period of 2012, police statistics show. Homicides were cut in half – from 15 to seven. MORE