Inquirer Traces Unraveling of Once-Lauded Philadelphia Police Drug Unit


The Philadelphia Inquirer traces problems with the police department’s Narcotics Field Unit South, one of the most aggressive in the city, to a stash house bust that “would prove their undoing.” The bust took 54 pounds of marijuana, valued at $486,000, off the streets. The undercover officers also arrested eight other alleged drug dealers. The impressive haul was in line with the undercover unit’s performance. In 2011, the Narcotics Field Unit South seized 357 guns, $7 million in drugs, and $1.8 million in cash, according to the unit’s own statistics.

But their success on the streets has come at a considerable cost. The city has settled at least seven lawsuits against three of the officers involved in that arrest that alleged false arrest or illegal searches. Three weeks ago, six members of the unit were stripped of their credibility when District Attorney Seth Williams informed Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey they would no longer be called to testify in drug cases. Williams has offered no explanation for his decision. Since then, dozens of cases have been dismissed, hundreds more could be overturned, and civil lawsuits loom. The unraveling of cases has put the officers’ sometimes-controversial record in a new light. Their street tactics for years have been scrutinized by police Internal Affairs investigators. Almost all complaints were found to be unsubstantiated.

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