Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Mayor, Police Pleaded For Help In Opioid Crisis, But D.A. Said Hell No

Photo: Cathie Berrey-Green
By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

It was standing room only in the mayor's conference room at City Hall. On Oct. 17, 2018 Mayor Jim Kenney had gathered some 20 top police officials, including the police commissioner, to meet with a half-dozen top officials from the District Attorney's office, led by the D.A. himself, Larry Krasner.

The mayor had convened the meeting to discuss how the D.A.'s office might better cooperate with the cops and a two-year-old city-wide task force that was dealing with the opioid crisis in Kensington. The concerns were that crime was on the rise, including human trafficking, and that addicts were dying in record numbers.

But Krasner wanted no part of any anti-drug task force. In response to pleas from the mayor and top police officials, Krasner gave what was described as a lecture. The federal government, he said, was to blame for bringing drugs into the country. The war on drugs was a colossal failure. And the bottom line was the top law enforcement official in the city wasn't going to lift a finger to help in any opioid crisis. The D.A. subsequently ended the 90-minute meeting by telling the mayor and the assembled police officials, hey we're done here.

"I was stunned," recalled one official at the meeting. "He [Krasner] basically disrespected the mayor and every other person in the room."

On hand in the mayor's conference that day were then Police Commissioner Richard Ross, deputy police commissioners, district captains, chief inspectors and lieutenants, as well as the city's then First Deputy Managing Director, Brian Abernathy, and First Assistant District Attorney Robert Listenbee.

What the mayor was trying to do was to get D.A. Krasner to consider changing some of his policies that in the view of the cops, were only enabling more crime and exacerbating the opioid crisis. Some specific incidents were discussed. Such as a crossing guard who was escorting students and suddenly found herself in the middle of an angry dispute between rival drug dealers vying for the same corner.

The cops were called, they made arrests, but the district attorney's office let the suspects go, and declined to prosecute anybody.

According to the official who attended the meeting, the mayor and everyone else in the room was basically telling the district attorney hey, we've got a serious problem in Kensington. And we're asking for your help. Could you reconsider some of your polices, specifically how your department refuses to prosecute certain so-called "victimless" crimes, such as drug possession, prostitution and retail theft? And how your department also declines every month to prosecute many other crimes, including rape and murder.

But Krasner wasn't hearing any of it. He did not create the drug problem, he said, and he would not use the resources of his office to help solve the problem. Krasner also disputed police statistics about how bad the crisis was in Kensington.

His office had its own statistics, the D.A. said.  And Krasner told the mayor and the police officials that he was more inclined to believe his department's stats over any police stats.

When the mayor and the police commissioner pleaded with Krasner to reconsider, the D.A. according to one official in the room, the D.A. stated that he stood by what he had previously said. The drug problem was all the feds' fault. And Krasner wasn't going to use any of the resources of his office to help solve the crisis, and he wasn't going to change any of his progressive policies.

Then Krasner brought the meeting to a close by saying hey we're done here.

"Krasner was completely dismissive of the entire room filled with experienced law enforcement personnel, as well as the mayor himself," said the official who sat in on the meeting. The official was also surprised by the mayor's deferential behavior.

"I didn't know that the mayor was afraid to attack the district attorney," the official said.

The next day, the mayor's office issued a press release where the mayor gave an update on the work of the task force. In the press release, the mayor talked about how 35 city departments, offices and agencies were cooperating to carry out his directives, as outlined in the mayor's Opioid Emergency Response Executive Order. But there was no mention of the D.A.'s decision to sit this one out.

A spokesman for the mayor declined to discuss the meeting in the mayor's conference room.

"We're not going to comment on what may or may not have taken place at this private meeting," said Mike Dunn, a spokesman for Kenney.

And as usual, D.A. Krasner and his alleged spokesperson, Jane Roh, declined comment.

At the meeting in the mayor's conference room, an eight-page memo written by a police official that was critical of the D.A.'s progressive policies was passed out to participants. Portions of the memo were also read aloud during the meeting.

The eight-page memo,  a copy of which was obtained by Big Trial, began by taking issue with the D.A.'s decision to mandate that "certain crimes . . . identified as victimless crimes . . . such as drug ingestion or working in the sex trade are not crimes that need be enforced."

"This philosophy is not practical," the memo stated. The "do not enforce policy" was "having a dramatic and detrimental effect on several neighborhoods throughout the city. The devastation this lack of enforcement is having on the lives of the citizens who live in these troubled areas and the lost lives and values of those who commit crimes to feed their addiction, continues to plague and cause deterioration of once viable communities."

The big drug problem in the city, according to the police memo, was heroin, which "continues to be tested and confirmed as having the highest purity in the country."

"This unfortunate distinction has put us as law enforcement professional in a uniquely precarious position," the memo stated. People were coming from "many counties surrounding Philadelphia and beyond to seek out what they have been informed will be the ultimate drug experience."

As a result, the memo says,"there has been an overwhelming increase in drug related overdoses and deaths. Also, to feed their addictions, many if not all addicted to this highly pure narcotic will do things that at one time in their lives would have been unthinkable to simply ease their addictive pain."

At the time, the police memo stated, drug overdose deaths in the city rose from 900 in 2016 to 1,217 in 2017, and another 800 more over the first ten months of 2018.

According to the report, the police department didn't agree with Krasner that prostitution was a victimless crime.

"The inhumanity and stripping away of these victims' dignity demands our sincere and most strenuous attention," the memo states. While the D.A.'s policy of do not arrest for prostititon may be "well-intentioned, what is lost . . . is our ability to place these unfortunate victims in programs to help them deal with and navigate through there issues or addiction, sexual or physical abuse as well as mental health issues. It is not, or would it be considered insensitive or heartless when arresting someone to get them into a system that may ultimately change the course of their life in a positive way."

The police memo also took issue with the D.A.'s policy that "no one is to be charged with mere possession of marijuana regardless of the weight possessed."

While not arresting people for possession of small amounts of marijuana may make sense, "It is naive and dare I say irresponsible to assume that those in possession of large amounts of marijuana packaged for individual sales or bulk pounds of marijuana are possessed by individuals simply for personal use."

"The illegal sale of marijuana is a lucrative trade and generates large sums of cash," the memo states. "Dealers and their workers will arm themselves and use violence in an effort to protect their illegal source of income at all cost."

"Simply put, those who possess large amounts of marijuana should not simply be identified as mere possessors, rather careful evaluation of the totality of circumstance in each case should be undertaken and past criminal records taken into account for charging purposes."

Lastly, the police memo dealt with the declinations issued by the D.A.'s office every month, the decisions not to charge people that the cops have arrested for alleged crimes that include murders and thefts.

The D.A. issues hundreds of such declinations every month, and thousands a year. The police memo took a dim view of that practice:

We have been informed by several prosecutors during meetings in the District Attorney’s Office that their standard of charging is higher than the legal definition of probable cause.  We do not agree with many of the District Attorney’s Declinations because we believe in the legal standard of probable cause for charging purposes.

This is a point of contention for us.  Our investigators commit to ensuring that their investigations are complete and thorough prior to submission to the District Attorney’s Charging Unit.  Furthermore, service to the victims of crime is paramount to our goals.  

More importantly, the ongoing matter of contention is the refusal of the District Attorney’s Office to charge individuals with the crime of prostitution, possession of narcotics and retail thefts.

It is my belief that by ignoring the charging of these crimes, The District Attorney’s Office is directly contributing to the City of Philadelphia’s opioid crisis via overdoses and deaths as well as the spike in gun related violent crime in some sections of the city.  

Offenders of these crimes historically commit such crimes due to their addiction to narcotics and in most cases, specifically the current opioid crisis in the form of heroin. One could argue that cases of mere possession should not be put in this same category, however, the District Attorney’s Office has declared that mere possession of marijuana (regardless of weight) is not to be charged.  We are in fact letting drug dealers off the hook due to this broad charging decision. 

Here is the reality of this current situation.  Prostitutes are selling their bodies for money or drugs to feed their addiction.  Communities make complaints as they have been exposed to this illegal activity in front of their homes, businesses etc.  Law enforcement conducts investigations and make arrests.  

The officers put their safety at risk as they fulfill their sworn oath.  Officers prepare all arrest paperwork and the District Attorney’s Office declines all charges.  The prostitutes are transported to the Police Detention Unit during the processing of their arrest paperwork.  

These prostitutes are fully aware of the no charge position of the District Attorney’s Office and state so while in custody.  When charges are declined, the prostitutes who have committed the sex or drugs for money crime, are now released and immediately return to the same neighborhood to sell themselves to feed their heroin addiction.  

This cycle continues again and again without any consequences or our ability to direct these individuals to much needed services.  

As this cycle continues without consequences or alternative programs provided, we are and will continue to see a continuing increase in opioid addiction, overdoses and deaths in this city.  This is all in direct correlation with the policies of the District Attorney’s Office not to charge for this offense.  

Along with this, as more and more individuals come to Philadelphia to purchase and consume this high grade heroin, they become addicted and remain within these troubled communities.  The narcotics trade becomes more and more lucrative for those dealers controlling the corners where the heroin is sold.  

As these corners become more and more lucrative, others see an opportunity to overtake the dealer and seize the very profitable corner.  This causes dealers to arm themselves and their workers with illegal firearms purchased with their drug proceeds to protect themselves and their corners from being taken over by others.  

This has, does and will continue to contribute to the ever- increasing violence in these areas.  I would argue that this increase in violence is a direct result of the District Attorney’s declination policy.  

It must be said that in an effort to discontinue this revolving door of crime and vicious cycle of addiction, we must revive the charging process of these offenses in an effort to direct offenders into  alternative individualized solutions and programs for those who are addicted and thereby face greater risks of victimization.  

We as law enforcement officers, but more importantly as servants of the public, ask that you allow us to humanly assist those who want and need our assistance. Give us back the opportunity and tools to make a difference in the lives of those who are addicted, victimized, abused, exploited and dehumanized by predators who would prey on this most vulnerable segment of our society.   I am asking you to help us help them.    

And what was the D.A.'s reaction to this memo, according to the official who attended the meeting? 

Pure disdain.    

"It all fell on deaf ears," he said.

4 comments:

  1. He's a Public Defender with Power.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ralph. Doesn't the DA Office specifically have a unit dedicated to Narcotics and focusing on Major Drug dealers that is funded with Federal funds? If so the Feds need to divorce themselves from Krasner! He can't have it both ways!

    ReplyDelete
  3. We need some people in the know to weigh in on that one.

    Just wondering how Progressive Larry's stance on the opioid crisis -- Go to hell -- is going over with the safe injection site crowd.

    Hope it doesn't dent Larry's popularity in the Inky newsroom.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey guys, our Governor has put 3M people jobless by taking away their jobs. Many work categories are classified as non-extenial as opposed to extentenial. All construction will be shut down unless they are building a hospital. The State Health Department made those decisions knowing full well they are not qualified to decide. Work classifications on various jobs. As their mabrainsin job is to protect the public from food poisoning.

    If Governor had brains, he could have asked municipalities to shut be down approved projects not shovel ready by making them wait for state approval to start new construction. This would have provided wriggle room for allowing the governor to permit the continuation bof existing construction work to completion.

    ReplyDelete

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