It's called Operation Sunrise, and if all goes according to plan, the Badlands won't be the Badlands anymore.
Beginning today, Police Commissioner John Timoney, a host of East Division cops, narcotics officers and federal marshals plan to flood the streets of Kensington in one of the most comprehensive and ambitious drug sweeps in city history.
From Allegheny to Kensington avenues, Somerset to Cambria streets and every drug corner in between, police have promised that Operation Sunrise will yield some immediate results. In the long run, police aim to restore Kensington to its former residential character, and eradicate the drug corners that are notorious throughout the Northeastern United States.
Yesterday, frustrated residents who filled a church learned about the police plan to infiltrate their forgotten neighborhood around the clock until the job is done.
Police promised that one day, all prostitutes prowling alleys and corners would be punished, and that drug dealers and their runners would be imprisoned.
They vowed to clean streets, fix potholes and street lights, raze abandoned houses and haul away burned and abandoned cars.
``These people have been savaged and ravaged by violence and drugs, and we're here to begin,'' Timoney said. ``We're here for the long haul.''
Beginning at 6 this morning, residents can expect to see additional shifts from the 24th, 25th and 26th districts on the street.
By 8 a.m., a command post composed of a half-dozen city agencies, including the departments of Licenses and Inspections, Streets, Water and Health, and the Anti-Graffiti Network will take resident complaints to address everything from potholes to nuisance properties.
The command post is a van that will sit at Allegheny and Aramingo avenues 24 hours a day indefinitely, police said.
In coming weeks, residents will see uniformed members of the city's strike force, as well as highway patrol officers in the streets, enforcing ordinances as petty as noise violations and as serious as prostitution, according to city officials.
And city street-cleaning and beautification teams will also swarm neighborhoods where complaints have been lodged. Agencies will spend the day, and days to come, hauling away cars and serving warrants on addicts and dealers in abandoned houses.
What residents will not see are the federal agents who have set up a command post at an undisclosed location, and have already begun lengthy undercover operations. Residents also will not see city stakeout teams, which will fan the neighborhood.
``There will be considerably more officers on the street,'' said narcotics investigator Jerry Daley.
``There will be a 24-hour, seven-day continuous presence.''
And a crackdown will begin on weapons, not simply drugs, according to city officials.
``I believe in the next few months you will see a different Kensington,'' Councilman Frank DiCicco told an audience filled with skeptics, crime victims, parents and children. ``To the people coming from other regions: It's over. You will be arrested.''
According to a report compiled a year ago by State Rep. Ben Ramos, the Badlands are responsible for more than half the city's drug arrests and more than 25 percent of the city's 1997 homicides.
The area also serves as a pitstop for drug traffic along the Northeast Corridor, according to the report.
``We were talking, but no one was listening,'' said Councilman Angel Ortiz, who worked with Ramos. ``We both came to the conclusion that if we are going to do something about crime, we had to start with the East Division.''
Enter Sylvester Johnson, the city's Deputy Commissioner of Operations. Johnson was the primary architect of Operation Sunrise. With a $1.3 million grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, federal agents will purchase beepers and phones, equipment and drugs to succeed in long-term undercover drug operations on Kensington's streets. ``Since February, undercover officers have been working to I.D. the sellers,'' Johnson said.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy has labeled Kensington a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a label once shared by New York, Miami, Washington, Baltimore and Puerto Rico. Most cities have overcome the challenge, according to HIDTA director Joseph Peters.
Now, Kensington will have the same chance.
``What's different here is what will make it a coordinated effort,'' Peters said. ``And the consistency of it. We're here for the long run.''
But with the new initiative comes other fears, including how serious courts would be about issuing stiff sentences once dealers are hauled in, as well as the possibility crime will move to other areas of the city.
``My biggest question is: Will they do most of what they say?'' said Bud Yheaulon, Plaza Town Watch volunteer. ``The biggest problem they will face is community apathy.''
And Rich Costello, president of Philadelphia's Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police asked, ``When we do one division at a time I wonder . . . are we looking to eradicate it or relocate it?''
``I don't say that as a criticism of the Philadelphia department. The drug problem is a national problem. Until the national, state and local [authorities] get together, we're going to continue these types of ad hoc enforcement efforts.''
Still, Costello applauds the effort. ``Number one, it's sending a clear message that the Police Department apparently has become revitalized and gone back on the streets to fight crime.
``Certainly the residents have been crying for something like this for years.''