Mayoral Candidate Rebecca Rhynhart lays out plan of attack for opioid crisis from Kensington
The former City Controller spoke on strategies involving more police officer deployment to appointing a Drug Czar.
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Democratic Mayoral Candidate and former City Controller, Rebecca Rhynhart, held a press conference earlier this morning, Thursday, Jan. 12, on the steps of McPherson Square Park in the heart of Kensington where she laid out her plan of action to address the city’s opioid crisis, open drug markets, and addiction.
Rhynhart announced her strategies for addressing Philly’s opioid epidemic if elected, plans she said would take place within days of being sworn-in as Mayor to solve the long-standing problem plaguing the North Philly neighborhood, being powered by an open-air drug market.
“We aren’t the first city in the world to have an open-air drug market. But it needs to end. This problem, like so many of the problems our city faces, sits at the intersection of institutional racism and generational poverty. As Mayor, I will act immediately to restore the quality of life here in Kensington,” Rhynhart began.
She painted a picture that is all but too familiar and engraved in the minds of the many families, and residents, describing the short five minute walk from the Somerset SEPTA Station to McPherson Park, walking north on Kensington Avenue.
“On my walk here from the Somerset Station, I saw what residents and families of Kensington see every day — people injecting themselves with drugs in broad daylight, people leaned over and passed out, and trash piled up,” said Rhynhart. “This is not acceptable. Philadelphians are raising their families here. I am a mother and what I am seeing must end."
Rhynhart went on to announce the strategies she would implement and utilize to help improve the quality of life for residents that include deploying additional police officers to Kensington and increasing foot patrols.
“As Mayor, I’ll increase police presence with foot patrol in the areas of Kensington most overwhelmed by the opioid epidemic and the open-air drug market. With community policing, we will work with the residents of Kensington to create safety for families,” she said.
In regards to taking down the open-air drug market, she spoke of a Drug Market Intervention Program that will primarily look at dealers caught up in the drug trade, and assist them by getting them to cooperate with city services instead of facing the consequences — a jail cell.
It consists of locating street level dealers and arresting those that are violent and non-violent dealers, giving them a warning and an ultimatum that starting at that very moment, continuing to deal drugs is not an option and the program will help them get out of that life with job training and opportunities.
The intervention program is one of two law enforcement strategies Rhynhart laid out that have worked in other cities. The second program, LEAD, similar to the drug market program, has city services at the core of its mission.
LEAD, law enforcement assisted diversion, allows law enforcement to redirect individuals suspected of low-level crimes to community-based services that pick out hidden factors motivating their illegal activities.
Rhynhart also said she would appoint a Drug Czar who will report directly to her to coordinate the city’s response, and “to make sure all city departments are working together to tackle the status quo, stop the open-air drug market, clean up the streets, and get people into treatment.”
“All this is possible,” said Rhynhart.
The Mayoral candidate also reiterated the necessity of having a compassionate response for those suffering with substance use disorder, while at the same time, holding those responsible accountable.
“To the residents of Kensington who have continually said enough is enough, I hear you. To those suffering with addiction on the street, I see you. We cannot let this continue. I will lead with the courage necessary to fix this. As mayor, I will act immediately to restore the quality of life here in Kensington, and at the same time, help those suffering from addiction,” said Rhynhart.