General

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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Learn about buying property at Sheriff's Sale

The Office of the Sheriff offers monthly workshops – one conducted in the Spanish language and one in the English language – on How to Buy Property at a Philadelphia Sheriff’s Sale. Subjects covered in both sessions include the amount of money and required documents to secure a winning bid, what is the right of redemption and how that might impact a buyer’s purchase, and why it is important to make a visit to the site before you bid on a property.

Sign up for one of our upcoming serminars, conducted in English or in Spanish by clicking here.

Here Sheriff Jewell Williams (left) greets participants in a May session with moderator and Deputy Sheriff Mark Parsons answering questions.  In the second photo, participants of the May Workshop listen as Deputy Sheriff Mark Parsons explains the bidding process and offers tips on how to be a knowledgeable bidder.
 

Engaging with the Community

Approaching the summer of my second year as the elected Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County, I, like most, am looking forward to the warmer weather and the many activities (most of them free) sponsored by the city and/or other organizations.

The sheriff’s office is also sponsoring a number of free informational workshops and seminars this summer on everything from how to buy at a sheriff’s sale, to things you can do to stop your home from foreclosure.

We’ve already partnered with folks in the African and Caribbean community to provide information to about 200 people at St. Cyprian’s Catholic Church on Cobbs Creek Parkway, immediately following an April Sunday Mass.

Most recently we teamed up with El Concilio (council of Latin speaking organizations) and El Sol, a local Spanish language newspaper to present a workshop at 7th & Fairmont that addressed the rising number of foreclosures in this community and how to possibly bring those numbers down.

Councilwoman Maria D. Quinones-Sanchez was also there to offer information about AVI and stress the importance of workshops like ours to help those in need of advice, and/or, counseling from a mortgage foreclosure expert.

We will also be supporting clean up efforts throughout the city this summer, as well as host a number of informational seminars and workshops at places of worship, recreation centers and banquet halls across the city.

I recently read a report called Collateral Damage: The Spillover Costs of Foreclosures by Debbie Bruenstein Bocian, Peter Smith and Wei Li. The report gave some very somber statistics that stated: “Between 2007 and 2011, 10.9 million homes went into foreclosure” across the country.

The report went on to say that these foreclosures “not only have harmed the families that experienced them, they also have had the negative effects that extend to the neighborhood, community and wider economy”.

In other words, when a house goes into foreclosure, there is a ripple effect that impacts the block, and even the entire neighborhood.

My office understands the dynamics of this, which is why you will see us this summer offering encouragement and even muscle to street cleaning events, community gardens, job fairs, and free medical tests.

The complexities that lead to a foreclosure are often small in the beginning, but grow large and unstoppable because of apathy and a lack of knowledge. This, in turn, kicks in the sense of hopelessness because there seems to be no way out of their situation.

As my office continues to offer assistance in the form of advice and referrals, I sincerely hope that those who need help will take advantage of this information and share it as often as necessary.

I believe that a stable and aesthetically pleasing community is a large part of the incentive for folks to understand the importance of keeping up with mortgage payments.

After all, if you like where you live, you will want to stay where you live. 

Topping Off Ceremony at New Family/Juvenile Courthouse at 1501 Arch

On May 2, 2013 members of the staff of the Office of the Sheriff and city dignitaries gathered to watch the "Raising of Top Beam" ceremony celebrated at the new Family Court building in Philadelphia. The new 15-story, 51,000 square-foot building will unify the city’s juvenile court and its domestic-relations division at 1501 Arch when it opens in June, 2014.

(From Left) Chief Deputy Kevin Lamb, Special Consultant John Keaveney (Retired Captain Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office), Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille, Chief of Staff Bob Jackson, and Lt. Richard Verrecchio.

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