Philadelphia Police Inspector Ray Convery oversees 700 officers in the 24th, 25th, and 26th police districts, encompassing Kensington. Inspector Convery talked with PPR as part of our series on the Philadelphia Opioid Crisis. Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Penn Political Review: How have you seen the trajectory of the opioid crisis in Philadelphia change over the course of your career?
Inspector Convery: Back in the early 80’s, we used to have a huge crack cocaine problem in the city. That has morphed into now a heroin crisis within the city. There’s still always drugs going on in the city, it’s just a matter of which drug is the prominent one at the moment and the one making the most headlines right now is the opioids, which is the heroins, the OxyContins, and all of those things. That’s where we’re all at today, since the current market is over here in East Philly.
PPR: What is the police department doing to address this crisis right now?
RC: The drug dealers are in the business to sell drugs. The police department is in the business to have them stop selling drugs. It’s a daunting task, because of the magnitude of the people that are here. The best way to explain it is in a business model, there’s a supply and a demand. Right now there is a large demand for the heroin market, which makes for a supply to match that demand. Actually, some of the supply exceeds the demand, that’s why we have our very cheap prices around Philadelphia. Now, you take that same model, if we can get the constituents from the area the help that they need, which we’re working with my partners in the city to help the outreach to the homeless and the drug addiction people, to get less people to have that demand, then the supply goes away because if they can’t make any money, then they’re gonna find some other enterprise to keep themselves involved in.
PPR: Okay. So police department’s goal or theory is to combat this through the demand more than the supply.
RC: Well, we’re doing a combination. Our patrols are in the areas to try and prevent drug sales. We’re also in the area finding the users after they use and they get high, try to get them to some kind of help, and we find them on the streets taking care of the places that are typically, places where they do a lot of shooting up on drugs. Like McPherson Square, we went in and cleaned up the area. If you give them less spots to shoot up it also makes it better for the neighborhood, and in addition we can identify some of the users, and then we get some of them help. Not all of them, but if I can get 10 out of 100 that’s a great deal. That’s 10 less people on the street trying to use that deadly drug.
PPR: How many officers do you have on the ground right now?
RC: There’s over 700 in the division. In the specific different areas, it varies from day to day because of people being off and stuff. We have a pilot program with the 30 officers, working out of that area, and, it has been very positive over the last month and a half.
PPR: In talking to some people out in the community, we heard a lot of praise for what you guys were doing overall, but a couple people did mention that sometimes the police don’t target the right people. What would you say to that?
RC: I don’t know what they meant by targeting. I understand that the neighborhood, whenever there’s an influx of new officers, it’s just like any other job. If there’s a whole bunch of new reporters that are hired for a paper, they’re gonna be the ones that really go out there and go get ‘em and go out and get all the good stories and find all the work. So it’s the same with my new officers. There’s officers that are eager to go out and do the job. They’ll go into the areas where some of the veteran officers are just getting used to it, but the newer officers will go into those areas, and try to make it up—try to make a difference, in the neighborhood.
And they’re very successful, especially with these 30 bike officers, they’re covering twice as much ground as the foot beats were, so I’m getting all kinds of positive things from the neighborhoods. They’re extremely happy that we’re picking up in the neighborhood. They know that we have a bigger problem here. It’s gonna take a long time to fix. We can’t arrest our way out of this.
PPR: Sometimes addicts are not ready to get help. How does that figure into your approach to this issue?
RC: We’re going to be cleaning the Dougherty St. area soon. I have worked with the managing director’s office, and they’re gonna give me extra outreach people, extra homeless advocates, extra drug addiction people for the area, because instead of having that safe haven of being in, inside of the Ascension Church, or down on the railway tracks, we’re gonna be up on the street level, where the officers that are in the cars, and all bikes and all foot, are going to have more contact with these people on an individual basis, and where we can send them over to where we have the help set up.
PPR: What would you say if a student asked, “What can I do to be part of this solution?”
RC: We don’t have all the solutions to the problems. There is a community service that can be done. Every day down here there’s some community doing something to do the outreach work. There can be volunteers to help even just to clean up different streets down here to make it better aesthetically, which tends to give people confidence that the area’s coming up, and then the users will get the confidence to be able to go get some help… I mean it sounds like it’s nothing, but it’s a wonderful thing when you go out there on a Saturday or Sunday, and there’s forty-five volunteers walking down the street, cleaning up the street. Then, then we bring in the mural arts program, and then they come in and paint up the abandoned buildings and make them look like regular houses and stuff. And once you make the neighborhood better, it tends to chase the unwanted people out of those neighborhoods.
PPR: Thank you so much, we really appreciate it.