April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time officially set aside by President Barak Obama for special consideration of one of the most vulnerable groups in America.
The subject permeates every level of our society and crosses all racial, political and religious boundaries and it comes in many forms.
From physical abuse, to neglect, to the type of emotional abuse that leaves them with low self-esteem and a growing resentment of authority.
It also touches my office because it is the children who suffer as much as anyone when a family loses a home for one reason or another.
The stress it creates, as mentioned last year in the journal Pediatrics, can lead to child abuse as parents manifest their frustrations in the form of physical assaults on their own children.
The children become victims again when they are forced to physically leave their home and move in with relatives, or another, probably less desirable home, or even a shelter.
As Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County, the above scenario is one my office bends over backwards to prevent.
We sponsor mortgage foreclosure workshops across the city and invite any entity we feel can address some aspect of the myriad of reasons that lead to a family losing their home.
From immigration officials, to health experts offering advice on everything from high blood pressure to diabetes and heart disease.
If you are sick, you can’t work, and if you can’t work, you can’t pay your mortgage.
At a workshop in West Philadelphia recently we had more than 250 members of the Caribbean and African community come together at St. Cyprian’s where we spoke in detail on different programs and hotlines available to help keep people in their homes.
Among the informational vendors were representatives from health care agencies, immigration, and certified mortgage counselors offering valuable advice for free.
On May 4th we will host another such workshop at The Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations (Concilio) at 705-709 N. Franklin Street from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in partnership with El Sol, a Spanish language newspaper and will repeat this scenario in other neighborhoods throughout the city at least once a month for the rest of the year.
I have always believed that education is a powerful deterrent to hopelessness and ignorance.
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:
Our office has also:
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.
The tragic killing of three people in the lobby of the New Castle County Court House in Wilmington, DE recently is something the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County tries actively to prevent through constant training and vigilance of the areas we are charged with protecting.
My condolences and prayers to the family and friends of those killed, and to the innocent people in the vicinity of the incident who witnessed the horrible event.
Anyone going to a public facility—especially a courthouse—should feel secure and confident as they go about their business. The security and safety of the general public, judges, witnesses, defendants and the accused at the Criminal Justice Center (CJC), Traffic Court and Family Court here in Philadelphia are all our responsibility and we are constantly training our Deputy Sheriff’s and reviewing our security at each place.
Unfortunately, though, when someone with a gun is determined to use it, such a scenario is a challenge for even the best security.
The shootings in Wilmington occurred in the lobby of the county court house prior to people going through the metal detector. The lobby area of the CJC in Philadelphia is constantly monitored by uniformed personnel who are trained to respond in an “active shooter” scenario, and we are always on high alert throughout the day as hundreds of people come in and out of the building.
We’ve beefed up our security by adding two officers on bikes to patrol the perimeter of the CJC, and though we are down in personnel overall, we will continue to keep a uniformed presence in the outer perimeter of the building.
Still, anyone seeing something suspicious, or notice a person acting erratically in, or near any of the above-mentioned facilities should make one of our Deputy Sheriff’s or any police officer in the vicinity aware of the situation.
Again, the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County does all that it can to insure the safety of those conducting business with the courts, but awareness on everyone’s part is welcome and appreciated as we go about our daily routine.
Ernie Ross, Jr., 18, was Sheriff For A Day on February 22nd as part of a city-wide "takeover" of government positions by PAL youth from across the city. Ross spent the day with Sheriff Jewell Williams and Staff Inspector Paris Washington touring the different buildings and court rooms protected by the Deputy Sheriffs. Ross lives in the Allegheny West Community and is a member of the Hartranft PAL Center.
Early in my administration I met with several people from Women Against Abuse (WAB) to assure them I would continue to support their tireless efforts at ending the unconscionable violence inflicted on women usually by their husbands or boyfriends.
Though October is designated as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we should always remember that three women are murdered everyday by their husbands or boyfriends and assaulted or beaten every nine seconds here in America.
In fact, domestic violence causes more injuries to women than accidents and muggings combined, and 95-percent of those victims are women (an estimated 4 million per year) according to statistics from the Department of Justice.
Domestic violence also includes children, who often bear the emotional scars for years after the physical abuse has ended.
All sorts of societal stresses can trigger abuse, even when the victim attempts to alleviate the situation by getting a protection order from the court.
Sometimes the abuser shows up to intimidate, or even physically approach the person in court, which is why we have been working with WAB to make sure the Deputy Sheriff's who guard the courts are always aware and alert to such situations.
Domestic abuse also happens in same-sex partnerships, all age ranges, ethnicities, economic levels, and even heterosexual men are victims of abuse, which can be as verbally and emotionally harmful as outright physical abuse,
Some of the signs of domestic abuse include: obvious physical trauma such as a black eye; chronic stomach pains; anxiety; depression; unusual absence from work or school; and even substance abuse are often warning signs of a deeper problem.
With that in mind, please join me in making a personal commitment not only during Domestic Violence Awareness month, but to ALWAYS expose this type of violence through education, support and encouragement of its victims, and doing whatever you can to help those organizations like WAB, Women's Way, Women Organized Against Rape, and the many other groups and associations striving hard to make domestic abuse a rare and unusual occurrence in this country.
Meanwhile, we all deserve to be treated with respect and valued as human beings, and to live a life without constant fear and control.