For the past decade, Philadelphia has earned a reputation as a city marked by violent crime, open air drug markets, and feckless leadership. But a new mayor and chief of police have decided that enough is enough.

The Kensington neighborhood has been ground zero for the city’s broken crime policies. Drug dealers there have operated with impunity in what has been called “the East Coast’s largest open-air drug market.” Drug users, most coming from outside the city, have flocked to the area. Kensington’s addicts typically started by using heroin or prescription opioids, then graduated to fentanyl. More recently, they have been overdosing on “tranq,” the street name of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer that causes catastrophic damage to skin and muscle tissue, often resulting in amputations. All this drug activity has turned the area into a killing zone with one of the city’s highest homicide rates, even as Philadelphia itself has earned a dubious national distinction: its homicide rate rated as the worst among America’s ten largest cities in 2021.

Who were the leaders overseeing this disaster? Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney opted for every “progressive” policy on the menu, from reducing police funding to embracing sanctuary city status. The results were so startlingly bad, with crime spiking and residents fleeing, that Kenney infamously stated that he would be happy when he was no longer mayor. Kenney made his own situation worse by selecting Danielle Outlaw as Philadelphia police chief. Outlaw lacked experience leading a police department for a municipality as large and violent as the City of Brotherly Love. She failed on all fronts, resigning in 2023, just as Kenney’s term as mayor was expiring. Philadelphia’s district attorney throughout this time has been Larry Krasner, a “progressive” prosecutor best-known for feuding with the police and proudly not prosecuting crimes, even as the city set an all-time record for murders. Kenney and Outlaw are both out; only Krasner remains of this terrible troika.

In 2024, a new mayor and police chief took over. Mayor Cherelle Parker is a no-nonsense woman who grew up in the city. She ran as a moderate who prioritized re-establishing public safety. Once in office, Mayor Parker immediately declared a state of emergency based on crime, a step that Kenney had refused to take. She also chose Kevin Bethel as police chief. Bethel is an experienced and levelheaded police leader with deep ties to the city and a thorough understanding of the drivers of violence.

Mayor Parker and Chief Bethel have wasted no time in trying to regain control of the city. They immediately cracked down on the packs of illegal ATV and dirt-bike riders that terrorized all neighborhoods. They cleaned out the massive encampments of squatters that were making Kensington a crime magnet. And in their most recent move, they assigned the entire graduating class of the Philadelphia Police Academy—75 new police officers—to patrol in Kensington, stopping the open-air drug dealing and rampant drug use that drives violence. Essentially, the mayor and police chief are treating the entire area of Kensington as a crime “hot spot.” Crime hot spots are the roughly 5 percent of locations in any city associated with over 50 percent of the violent crime; it is one of the most carefully researched and replicated statistical findings in criminology, applicable to large cities around the world.

How will DA Krasner react? By now, he probably realizes he is in a fight for his political life. Voters across the country have seen what happens when prosecutors won’t prosecute, and they are not happy. Even the liberal voters of Portland, Oregon, kicked out District Attorney Mike Schmidt, fed up with the death and disorder that resulted from his non-prosecution policies. In San Francisco, voters recalled progressive DA Chesa Boudin. Across the Bay, Oakland’s chief prosecutor Pamela Price is now facing her own recall election. Los Angeles district attorney George Gascon looks to be on his last legs politically. Kim Gardner stepped down in St. Louis, and Kim Foxx announced that she would not run again in Chicago, as voters in both cities sent strong messages of dissatisfaction with the violence in their streets. Krasner has to be feeling the heat.

Early results in Philadelphia are encouraging. Crime rates have been declining as the new administration has rolled out its public safety program across the city. The mayor and the chief should be commended for seeing what needed to be done and having the courage to pursue it. Much work remains, but the city now has two top officials determined to change the disastrous path that Philadelphia was on.

The message to other cities is simple: if Philadelphia can pull itself out of its mess, so can you.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images


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