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.
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.
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.
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.
Sheriff Jewell Williams Welcomes The New Bike and K-9 Units To The Office; Recognizes Special Units With Badges and Certificates
Sheriff Jewell Williams joined several of his top officers to officially welcome three canines (Carter, Blair and Jimmy) to the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County, that will be trained to sniff out bombs and narcotics.
The three dogs—donated to the sheriff’s office by James Binns, Philadelphia lawyer and philanthropist—are about a year old and will form the newly created K-9 Unit. Their handlers are Deputy Sheriff’s Barry Johnson, William O’Leary and Andrew Ortiz.
The dogs, named after the grandchildren of Binns, made their first public appearance on recently during ceremonies at the Citizens Bank Park to also recognize the newly formed Bike Patrol Unit, and awarded badges and pins to the Special Operations Group, Honor Guard Unit, and Homeland Security.
The event was hosted by Sheriff Williams, Staff Inspector Paris Washington and Lt. Roy B. Herbert.
“I want to especially thank Jimmy Binns,” said Sheriff Williams, “for his extreme generosity and for the support he has shown myself and these officers over the past several years”.
The Special Operations Group honored at recent ceremonies at Citizens Bank Park consisted of :
Standing—(left to right)—DSO Willard Rozier, DSO Ronald Jones, DSO Bilin Carera, Deputy Sheriff Sergeant Robert Castelli, Sheriff Chief of Staff Robert Jackson, Deputy Sheriff Lt. Vernon Muse, CFO Benjamin Hyllar, Sheriff Jewell Williams, Chief Sheriff Deputy Kevin Lamb, DSO Bryan Dixon, DSO Virginia Killman, DSO Paris Davenport.
Kneeling—(left to right)—DSO George Morse, DSO Kevin Butler, DSO Andrew Ortiz.
The newly created Bike Patrol Unit was recognized and given certificates of merit to mark the admission of this unit into the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County.
Standing—(from left to right)—DSO Arnelio Alanguillan, Deputy Sheriff Sergeant Robert Castelli, DSO Marcus Morris, DSO Jennifer Burrell, DSO Craig Palmer, DSO Phil Belton, Sheriff Chief of Staff Robert Jackson, DSO John McCleary, James Binns, Sheriff Jewell Williams, Deputy Sheriff Sergeant Michael Bastone, Deputy Sheriff Lt. Monte Guess.
Kneeling—(left to right)—DSO Vance Robinson, DSO Roberto Cosme
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.