Despite Many Challenges, Sheriff Continues To Move Office Forward

As both a lifelong resident and now Sheriff of this wonderful city, I read with great interest several recent stories in both the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer that addressed issues of housing and the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County itself.

The stories showed how complicated and complex each can be while illuminating the need for strict enforcement of laws already in existence, as well as more innovative ways to level the playing field for purchasing a home at a sheriff’s sale, and clarifying the procedures for getting money owed from the sale of a property.

Our other responsibilities and duties range from insuring the safety of the Criminal Justice Center, Family Court, and Traffic Court which represents about 64 individual courtrooms we protect.

We also transport more than 500 prisoners per day between the prisons and the courts, serve warrants, track down fugitives, post notices for evictions, and, of course, execute the sales of properties upon the order of the court.

Unfortunately, it is the latter we are most associated with because we are the last, and most public part of the process of someone losing his or her home.

Despite inheriting a plethora of challenges and hurdles that include a shortage of staff at almost every level, an inadequate computer and phone system, and a public image that’s less than stellar, we have made significant strides in a relatively short period of time that include:

  • Approximately $10 million transferred to the city and $23.4 million to the state as proceeds from the legitimate sale of properties. 
  • Approximately $2 million returned in long overdue refunds to individual homeowners and defendants. 
  • Signing historic MOU agreements with both the City of Philadelphia and the First Judicial District to define clear relationships and mutual responsibilities that establish transparency between the Sheriff, the City and the Courts.    
  • Working to install a new computer system to replace an outmoded technology that restricts the ability of the office to be responsive and timely in addressing the needs of citizens as well as city and court officials.

Our office has also:

  • Conducted 20 seminars teaching citizens “How to Buy Property at a Sheriff Sale” that’s been attended by 2500 mostly moderate income people and first time homebuyers and/or community groups looking to invest in their own communities.
  • Conducted six mortgage foreclosure prevention workshops in conjunction with community organizations
  • Continue to work with Women Against Abuse in protecting those women coming for court appearances and educating them on reaching out to a sheriff’s deputy if they feel threatened or unsafe in a courtroom.

After my election in 2012, I had to address and assist in two major investigations of the previous administration; a federal criminal investigation and a class action suit.

Two other major operations and financial issues also confronted me:  millions of dollars in unclaimed funds owed to the state, city and individual homeowners and an outdated computer system that manages millions of dollars in mortgage foreclosure and tax sale proceeds.   As outlined above, the office has now returned millions of dollars to the City of Philadelphia and its citizens as a first step toward more effective and transparent and timely operations.

So, when I read a column in the Philadelphia Daily News that says our office has a vendetta against one individual lawyer and that is why we have yet to return money on a property to his client (who has yet to produce the proper identification needed to do so), I just shake my head from side to side, then move on to the next challenge.

My immediate goals include becoming an even bigger part of the solution to ridding the city of abandoned homes and vacant lots, and continuing to streamline this organization to make it as efficient as possible.

These are challenges that are neither personal nor vengeful; two things that have no place in the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County.

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