Philadelphia is an aesthetically pleasing city throughout the year, and the holiday season between November and January makes it even more pleasing to the eyes.
Unfortunately, it is also the time of the year when the scam artists, flimflam opportunists, and generally dishonest people trying to get money illegally from honest folks also seem to come out in droves.
At the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County, we regularly receive inquiries during the holidays from people who have been called by a creditor claiming the sheriff’s office has a warrant out for them and will come to arrest them if they don’t pay a delinquent debt.
These company’s and/or individuals usually go by official sounding names like Legal Recovery Services, which is an organization mentioned by a number of surrounding counties as being responsible for defrauding many individuals by using the “warrant” line to force you to give them money.
A common approach is to claim that someone has taken out an online loan in your name that has gone into default and you must pay up or face arrest from the sheriff.
First and foremost, if you hear that, you know it’s a lie.
The Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County does not telegraph the fact we have a warrant out for an individual, and we would never call up the individual to tell them we have a warrant. We would simply show up at the door.
Also, my office has no relationship whatsoever with creditors of any sort, especially when it comes to the enforcement of a non-court ordered debt.
Or, there are others who claim to have some special access to the sheriff’s office that allows them to get funds owed to an individual from a sheriff’s sale much faster than if the individual went through the process themselves . . . but you must pay them an often hefty upfront fee for the service.
I can assure you there is no “special access” or preferential treatment given any person making a claim on funds they feel are owed to them from a sheriff’s sale. The process is a simple one and generally not complicated if all the proper identification and paperwork is presented.
So, I encourage you to enjoy this holiday season, but also be wary of those who may be trying to become a Grinch to your good feelings by getting you to worry over something that is a lie, and pay to settle a problem that doesn’t even exist.
To improve safety and efficiency of Sheriff's sales, starting with 2014 February Sheriff's Sales, the Sheriff will no longer accept cash at any mortgage foreclosure or tax sale. Deposits on purchased properties must be paid by money order, certified bank checks, cashier's check or attorney's checks. We will not accept personal checks.
In the event the buyer does not have the exact denomination in checks to make a deposit, the excess amount paid will be credited toward the balance due at settlement.
Any suggestions or comments regarding these regulations should be addressed to Richard Tyer of the Sheriff's Real Estate Department.
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and a great time to make us all more aware of this challenging disease that is closely connected to the things we eat.
Million of Americans—including me—now take on the daily routine of battling to keep our blood sugar at an acceptable level while trying to work, take care of family, make decisions and simply live a decent quality of life.
I revealed that I have diabetes earlier this month on Election Day during a radio program on WURD-AM.
The looks on the faces of several others also sitting at the interviewers table ranged from surprise, to nods of sympathy and stern looks of concern.
It is no secret that diabetes can be managed through proper medication, diet and exercise, but too often those who need such information are the ones who tend to get it least, or too late, and Latinos and African Americans bear the brunt of those afflicted with the disease
According to the American Diabetes Association, a little over 25 million Americans currently have the disease, but only 18.8 million have been diagnosed which means 7 million are walking around with a debilitating disease that has the potential to take their life.
My mother, father, and brother have already succumbed to diabetes so I personally know the importance of treating it as early as possible, and the emotional havoc it leaves behind when a loved one is taken by the disease.
This year’s Diabetes Awareness Month is themed “A Family Affair”, because the effects of diabetes are felt by family members, loved ones, and even co-workers who will have to cover for, or take over for someone who has been hospitalized because of complications from the disease.
For many, unfortunately, the loss of a working member of a household—especially if he or she is the only source of income—can be catastrophic because it starts a chain of events that can lead to the mortgage not being paid and the home eventually lost to a sheriff’s sale.
In order to prevent such a scenario, you must pay close attention to your health and the health of those in your household.
If you suspect you have diabetes (an estimated 79 million have Type-2 Diabetes, which is often referred to as pre-diabetes) you should see your doctor immediately and start a regimen of medication (if necessary) that also includes diet and exercise.
I would also strongly suggest you try to create a plan that will cover your mortgage should you become sick, and find as many resources as possible to provide information and referrals to help you.
A good place to start would be the American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org) which can steer you to local organizations that may be able to help your particular situation, as well as point you to other support services.
I also encourage you to not take this disease lightly and remember that it’s affects go way beyond one person, and can include everything from losing a home, to losing a family member.
Staff Inspector Paris Washington of the Office of the Philadelphia Sheriff was a participant in a panel on Cops and Kids of Color at the 120 Annual International Conference held in Philadelphia.
“The panel focused on the disproportionate number of minority youth negatively interacting with law enforcement officials that result in arrest and how to reduce it,” said Washington.
More than 13,000 attended the five-day Conference and Law Enforcement Education and Technology Exposition held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center including Police Chiefs, CEO’s, federal officials and law enforcement officials.
Staff Inspector Washington joined the Office of the Sheriff in 1992 and has since earned numerous certifications and awards and promotions.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police serves as the professional voice of law enforcement addressing cutting edge issues confronting law enforcement though advocacy, programs and research, as well as training and other professional services. IACP is a comprehensive professional organization that supports the law enforcement leaders of today and develops the leaders of tomorrow.
In the more than 30 years I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Walter P. Lomax. Jr., I don’t recall ever seeing him without a smile and a readiness to shake your hand that was always sincere and warm.
Our pleasantries always included a hug and chat about family and mutual friends, as well as political issues and the major community concern of the moment.
His wife, Beverly, was almost always at his side, or someplace close, and I would make it a point to tip my hat (whether I had one on or not) in respect, my personal greeting for one of the most gracious people I’ve ever known.
His recent death has left a void in the leadership of Philadelphia that will never be filed with the type of honesty, perseverance, compassion, intelligence and dignity that fit Dr. Lomax like a well-tailored suit.
He was indeed a special man with the ability to make anyone he encountered feel special as well.
After purchasing WURD, a local talk radio station, and under the guidance of his daughter Sara, it too began to reflect the uniqueness of its owner by delving deep into community issues and concerns and becoming a true voice for the African American community.
I have spoken on the radio station countless times, most recently at a political gathering in West Oak Lane, and even though Dr. Lomax was not there, his presence was felt in the form of a remote set up from WURD. Like him, the discussions I had during that interview were engaging, progressive, and all about community.
Dr. Lomax die at the young age of 81.
My condolences to his family, and I thank them for sharing this great man, whose very full and unselfish life inspired many to be committed to service and improving the lives of others at every opportunity.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.