General

Sheriff Jewell Williams Recognizes Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and nearly 20 years since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

There have been many improvements and changes in response to domestic violence in general and specifically violence against women.

According to President Barak Obama, who has issued a formal proclamation recognizing the month as a time of reflection and continued awareness: “ . . . our Nation’s response to domestic violence has greatly improved.  What was too often seen as a private matter best hidden behind closed doors is now an established issue of national concern.”

That “concern” is also shared here at the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County.

Study after study has revealed the strong connection between domestic abuse and homelessness caused by women forced to make the mind-bending choice of staying in an abusive relationship, or leaving without a permanent place to live.

Often such situations consist of two-income families reduced to one income, and even if the abusive partner leaves, the other often must take on the economic weight of paying for food, clothing, and the mortgage.

Unfortunately, the latter often becomes as much a casualty as the relationship itself, which gives rise to other pressures and stresses that can—and often does—lead to foreclosure and homelessness.

Over the past several months we’ve been presenting mortgage foreclosure workshops in the basement of churches, community centers, and even in a living room or two in order to provide information on how to possibly avoid a foreclosure.

We’ve also worked with Women Against Abuse to provide information to women who feel they are being intimidated by the accused (and his friends or family) at a court hearing on the matter.

We also serve the accused with Protection From Abuse orders and remove any and all weapons from the home of the accused.

Still, it is everyone’s responsibility, as President Obama said, to continue making this a matter of “national concern”.

With that in mind, I offer the following suggestions that can help those concerned with their safety in a courtroom, and how the sheriff’s office can help to assuage that fear:

  • If you are being harassed, threatened, or intimidated in a courtroom, immediately notify the sheriff and/or the judge.
  • If the deputy sheriff sees an action where a person is threatening or intimidating someone in the courtroom, that deputy can also be a witness for the victim.
  • There is always a supervisor who walks the hallways of 1801 Vine and the Criminal Justice Center.  They can be identified by their blue uniform and the star-shaped badge on the front of their shirt, or embroidered into the sleeve.  If you can’t immediately locate a deputy, the supervisor is sure to be in the area.
  • If you believe the person threatening you will show up at the same court hearing, notify the sheriff’s office to let them know you are on your way.
  • If you know there is a warrant out on a person who is threatening or intimidating you, please let the sheriff’s office know of this as well.

For more information on making this “national concern” your personal concern, you can reach out to organizations like Women Against Abuse (www.womenagainstabuse.org) as I did to better understand this issue when I sat down with Jeannine L. Lisitski, MA, the Executive Director, and Molly Callahan, the organizations Legal Center Director.

Knowledge is power, and essential to making a difference.

Sheriff Presents Commendations

Help Is Never Far Away For Homeowners Struggling With Mortgage Payments

I had a conversation with a banker recently at the National Urban League Coalition’s annual conference held here in Philadelphia.

Though he was from Texas, our conversation revolved around familiar issues faced by homeowners trying to avoid foreclosure by modifying a mortgage to better fit their ability to keep up payments.

Despite several initiatives (both government and private) to assist in that process, the failure rate of those who have done the modifications and gotten new payment plans hovers around 49-percent across the country, said the banker.

In other words, even with reduced monthly payments and specialized plans, about half of those people still can’t stay current with their mortgage and wind up defaulting anyway.

Not a good figure.

To add insult to injury, there are a number of scam artists waiting to pounce on unsuspecting homeowners with promises of help and charge thousands of dollars for something the homeowner could have done themselves, or gotten the same help for free.

One reason for such a high failure rate is that even with modifications many still can’t make the payments because the original mortgage was far beyond their means in the first place.

Also, the volume and complexity of the paperwork involved can be more than when the homeowner first bought the house.

Still, there are a number of organizations and programs that can assist those facing foreclosure, as well as those struggling against all odds to keep pace with monthly payments.

The National Urban League, for example, has a program called Restore our Homes that helps individuals according to their specific needs as it relates to avoiding foreclosure.

Not everyone has the same problems and the program offers a number of services designed to meet you at your level of difficulty.

It is just one of several programs that homeowners can take advantage of as opposed to being taken advantage of by unscrupulous so-called “counselors” trying to make a few dollars off of someone else’s misery.

The concept of “home” is still embedded in the American psyche as a place worth the struggle to have, maintain, and turn as much into a refuge from the rest of the world as possible.

As the Sheriff of this great city, it is my sworn duty to not only execute the orders of the court when it comes to the selling of homes, it is also my responsibility to ensure the sanctity of homes by denying illegal evictions and doing educational outreach to help people keep their homes.

With that in mind, I encourage you to seek help with any problems you are having with paying your mortgage and take advantage of the opportunities available to assist you. 

Remembering Former Congressman and Community Leader Rev. William Gray

I grew up in the shadow of great men like the Rev. Leon “Lion of Zion” Sullivan, and walked the same streets strolled by such renowned activists as Father Paul Washington, Malcolm X, and the Rev. Bill Gray.

Each had their own style but the common elements were passion, dedication, courage and a love of community—all of which I learned and earned from each, and especially Rev. Gray.

As a young community activist struggling to raise a voice loud enough to be heard by those in power, Rev. Gray always seemed to know the right decibel needed to get an ear in the right direction, and funnel resources to those most in need.

He understood the community that surrounded his beloved Bright Hope Baptist Church and, most importantly, he understood the common touch and used it as naturally as breathing.

He was my mentor, teacher, advisor, and friend.

Never more than a phone call away, he was available at each and every step of my political career and proved to be a worthy confidante who cleared up a problem with a few words, and could also lift a pitying spirit with some well-placed expletives.

I remember the Bill Gray Basketball League growing into a Mecca for fledgling players like Eugene Banks who went on to the NBA, but most importantly it helped to guide young men into manhood through teamwork, hard work, and a sense of dignity grounded in perfection.

When Rev. Gray walked into a room he could light it up with a smile or a scorn depending on the situation, and each was equally respected. He had the type of courage that allowed him to speak truth to power, and also consoling words to a family that lost a relative to senseless violence,

I will miss Rev. Gray. His style. His walk. His dress. His presence.

I will, however, continue to honor his legacy of fairness and equality in my position as the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County as this department goes through its own challenges and hurdles.

It is not easy to fill the type of vacuum left by such a giant force in the community, and such a loss will be felt for years to come.

Technology And Four-Legged Recruits Usher in New Era at Sheriff’s Office

As the office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County continues to look into different ways to better serve the public, we are also improving our internal structure to make our services as fluid and efficient as possible.

We are well on our way to instituting a new computing and accounting system that will allow us to track our transactions and keep records in a manner that will eventually allow

 the public to access much of it through the Internet.

We added three new dogs to our enforcement arm, as well as a bicycle patrol to provide added security to the courts and those doing business in them.

One of our dogs, Blair, and his handler, Deputy Sheriff Officer William O’Leary were recently used at the site of the collapsed building at 22nd and Market Streets that tragically took the lives of six people; and Deputy Sheriff Officer Andrew Ortiz and his partner Jimmy patrolled the grounds of the recent U.S. Open Golf Tournament in Merion, Pa.

We are, however, still in need of dozens of additional deputies to not only protect the existing courtrooms, but another approximately 127 to properly staff the new Juvenile Justice Center that is scheduled for completion in June, 2014.

We are also challenged with properly maintaining daily security for the courts, and even though our deputy sheriff’s have been doing a yeoman’s job of keeping everyone safe, there are instances where their abilities are pressed to the limit simply because we are understaffed.

Recently, for example, in the courtroom of Common Please Court Judge Rayford Means in the Criminal Justice Center, a prisoner attempted to escape from custody but never m

ade it from the courtroom before being tackled by the deputy on duty and escorted back to the holding facilities in the building.

Both the deputy sheriff and the prisoner suffered minor injuries during the incident, which may have been resolved even quicker had the courtroom been staffed properly with two deputies.

This was the third such event to happen in that particular courtroom over the past few months (a high volume of cases are heard there daily) and compounds the fact at least two deputies per courtroom are needed to maintain safety and security.

Though our deputy sheriff’s do a phenomenal job on a daily basis, we need to continue providing the kind of support and assistance necessary to continue the good work.

The budget for hiring new deputy sheriffs has already been approved and we are currently looking for qualified candidates.

These candidates will come from both the general population as well as former and current certified law enforcement officers.

We will be looking for more minorities and women to apply for those slots and I will pass along the information on how to apply as it becomes available.

Meanwhile, know that our challenges in regards to staffing and service are many but our resolve to keep the courtrooms safe and secure for all is being met thanks to the dedicated, professional deputy sheriff’s already in place, and soon to be supported by the new recruits. 

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