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'Predator's playground': Former addict says Philadelphia drug market 'worse' despite city clearing efforts

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Dozens of new police officers are hitting the streets of Philadelphia’s most notorious neighborhood, promising to crack down on drug dealing, prostitution and other crimes.

But one man who used to deal and use drugs in the area worries the effort won’t last.

“They’re just taking the trash from the front of the house and moving it to the side,” Frank Rodriguez said. “It’s more for show and grandstanding than addressing the core issues.”

Frank Rodriguez checks on addict

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A record 1,413 people died from drug overdoses in 2022 in Philadelphia, according to the city health department, an 11% increase from the year prior. The Kensington neighborhood is ground zero for the city’s opioid crisis and was among the first areas of the country overtaken by fentanyl.

Rodriguez moved to Kensington as a child and started selling marijuana by the time he was a teenager. He became addicted to drugs after his mother died in a car accident in 2004 and continued using them until 2016.

Now, he owns a barbershop in Milton, Pennsylvania, but returns to Kensington to provide free haircuts and film testimonials from suffering drug addicts in an effort to humanize them.

He described Kensington as “a predator’s playground,” plagued with addiction, mental health issues and “a level of suffering and dehumanization” unrivaled by other cities.

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“You can’t walk or look anywhere around there and not be emotionally bothered by what you see,” Rodriguez told Fox News Digital. “You smell rotting flesh. You see people with holes in their limbs.”

Years of failed efforts to crack down on lawlessness and tent encampments have frustrated many locals, and cleaning up the neighborhood was a pillar of the most recent mayoral race. Last fall, newly elected Democrat Cherelle Parker suggested the National Guard could be brought in to help.

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Troops haven’t materialized yet, but Parker’s administration has taken numerous other steps, such as appointing the first-ever Kensington drug czar, signing a curfew into effect for businesses without liquor licenses in a portion of the neighborhood and sending police to sweep one major homeless encampment, according to local media reports.

And 75 new police recruits sworn in last month were specifically assigned to patrol Kensington.

“I will make no excuses for the fact that we will go down there in a much more forward posture, that we will be making arrests,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel said at a press conference ahead of the graduation.

Kensington streets in Philadelphia

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Rodriguez said he’s definitely seen a “ramp up in police presence” since Parker took office in January, yet “the problem’s gotten worse.”

“We’re not dealing with 20 people. We’re not dealing with 100 people. We’re dealing with thousands of people,” he said.

Rodriguez added that he worries Kensington will be a rough beat for rookies.

“I don’t think it’s the place for new officers,” he said. “I don’t even think the majority of the seasoned, veteran cops are equipped with the knowledge and the know-how to deal with what’s going on there.”

Parker replaced two-term Mayor Jim Kenney and took a stronger tough-on-crime tone than her predecessor. She supported stop-and-frisk, a tactic Kenney had vowed to end in Philadelphia. As a city councilor, Parker opposed Kenney’s push to open supervised injection sites.

“Instead of needles on the floor, I would love to see flowers and kids playing,” Rodriguez said. “So I hope and pray, keep my fingers crossed. But if I’m being realistic … what I see in Kensington — it’s going to be a very, very bad summer.”

Click here to hear more from Rodriguez.

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