New courts integrating First Judicial District juvenile delinquency and domestic cases are slated to open next June.
But at a budget hearing today before City Council, Sheriff Jewell Williams said he doesn’t have the manpower to staff the building – or even to adequately fulfill his office’s existing duties.
That’s why he’s asking for $4.1 million in additional funding to hire 100 additional deputies, along with several support staffers.
“If we have to deploy 40 people over to that building, it will not be enough to secure that building the way it should be,” Williams said.
“We can do it if we have to, but it’ll be a risk. I just hope the victim of that risk is not a citizen doing their civic duty or someone bringing their grandkid to visit a father who has an issue in the court.”
He said the Sheriff’s Office has reached a “critical point” and is in “desperate need” of additional manpower.
“I want to say on the record if you do not hire additional deputies, you’ll be opening up a courthouse next June with untrained professionals,” he said.
Williams pointed out that most violent courthouse incidents – such as the recent shooting in New Castle, Del. – have occurred in domestic courthouses, often in connection with cases involving visitation or child support.
Those are the very courthouses that are in Philadelphia currently staffed by private security firms.
“We have some courthouses where the front line is security personnel, not trained Sheriff’s deputies that go to school to look for certain types of weapons, certain kinds of weapons that disperse projectiles. We’re trained for that.”
Williams said private security workers aren’t held to the same standardized educational programs and retraining sessions as sheriff’s deputies.
“I would not recommend people who don’t have the training on how to recognize a bomb – I would not want to put those people in the courthouse,” he said.
“Because if you don’t have the training, you can actually cost someone’s life.”
He said his staff “are more trained that you could ever imagine,” so much so that he “couldn’t imagine paying someone $8 an hour from a security company” to do the same job.
Travel to train?
The training process for Sheriff’s deputies is another issue Williams raised – the only state-authorized program is currently offered through Penn State University in State College, a two to three-hour commute for most Philadelphians.
“One of the bigger problems with having that is when the Sheriff invites someone to join the Sheriff’s Office and the Sheriff informs them they have to go for 20 weeks to Penn State, many decline because it means 20 weeks away from their families,” he said.
He said he’s advocating for a change in those laws, but it would require action from the state.
“It’s very difficult because of the Republican power structure in Harrisburg but we’re working very hard to see if we can have that legislation amended,” he said.
Williams said he also needs more equipment for the Sheriff’s Office.
“We have deputies who have bulletproof vests and the clock is ticking, it’s expiring,” he said.
“When you wear vests over a certain period of time, the Kevlar or bulletproof material on the vest gets weakened by your body sweat. They haven’t changed those vests in over five years so that’s another incident waiting to happen.”
He said he’d also like to have the staff to be able to confiscate all cell phones and cameras from each courthouse and return them when visitors leave.
“If I had the manpower, I would collect every camera and every phone that came inside that courthouse,” he said.
“But I have to choose between protection from the immediate threat or the threat that may happen later on and I have to use it to protect judges in that courthouse.”
“On the other hand,” he added, “That picture’s going somewhere else. That’s why we need additional deputies.”
Some Council members were critical that Philadelphia’s courts may simply not be run efficiently enough to best use Williams’ services.
Williams said prisoners are escorted to the courthouse an average of five times before they actually see a judge due to delays in proceedings.
He said the sojourn to and from jails alone is also time-consuming.
“There’s a delay bringing people down in morning on 95,” he said.
“If we had a dedicated highway lane, we could bring people faster down to the Criminal Justice Center and, likewise, get them back faster to the prison in the evening.”
He said the court system is clogged – and the backlog is only going to continue.
“The problem is the courts are overwhelmed,” he said.
“We’re getting more inmates every day. The juvenile courts [are] off the hook. There’s an increasing number of young people getting arrested and when look at the adult side, we have more multi-defendant cases which require more deputies in courtroom.”
Williams said the Sheriff’s Office is often left out of public discussions about public safety but plays a key role in protecting judges, witnesses and court staff, as well as assisting other law enforcement agencies in their duties.
He recounted how the Philadelphia Police had to request his office’s assistance during last week’s “flash mob” incident at 15th and Chestnut.
“We are an integral part of law enforcement but a lot of the time we get downplayed because we don’t have the manpower we deserve,” he said.
“Let me just say that again – we deserve to have more deputies to protect the public. Thank God we haven’t had any major incidents at our courthouses, but we are stretched very thin.”
He said in light of recent tragedies, it’s time to “get ready for the unknown.”
“I cannot say this enough,” he said.
“The Sheriff’s Office is in desperate need of those deputies. God forbid if we had a major incident, we could not help all the people we would want to help. And unless we get those additional bodies – I have to put this on public notice – it would be a very disastrous incident if we don’t have the bodies and the trained personnel.”
But as far as raising court fees to pay for his proposed staffing increase, Williams said that’s not a something he’s willing to fight for.
“I can tell you as a political maverick – you don’t talk fees to City Council,” he said. “I’ll be supportive, but I won’t be making the recommendations.”
IN HIS PROPOSED BUDGET, Mayor Nutter did not seek any additional money for the Sheriff's Department despite its expanding responsibilities, but Sheriff Jewell Williams on Tuesday asked City Council for a 30 percent increase.
That increase amounts to $4.1 million for 100 new deputies, a budget director, a computer-support employee and a clerical position. Williams said there were 230 deputies in 2008 compared with 194 now.
"We get downplayed because we don't get the manpower we deserved," Williams said. "We are stretched very thin."
Williams said more deputies are needed to staff the new multi-story Family Court building at 15th and Arch streets, set to open next year, and courts opening up in the Widener building.
"We are in dire need of additional deputies," Williams said. "God forbid we have a major incident [like Boston] and don't have trained personnel."
Meanwhile, Council President Darrell Clarke did not take a stand on Williams' request for more money, but said the security concerns were worth revisiting. Referring to City Hall, Clarke said, "This is probably one of the least-protected buildings in the city of Philadelphia."
No sweet love and kisses here. Cops woke up 22 fugitives this morning with hand shackles and a ride to jail.
In their 16th annual, predawn Valentine's Day warrant sweep, more than 50 cops fanned out across Philadelphia and its surrounding counties in search of about 300 fugitives wanted on warrants for offenses big and small. They caught 22 of them in the five-hour sweep and hauled them in to Family Court for processing.
"I'm an Afghanistan veteran. Thanks, America!" a shackled fugitive barked at reporters on his way into courthouse. Another shouted expletives at news photographers.
But Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams had little sympathy for the nabbed fugitives, who will get no roses or candy on this day celebrating sweethearts.
"They'll be eating cheese sandwiches today," Williams said. Fugitives "creep around like little rats so they don't get caught. But today, we have taken some bad guys off the street."
Williams noted that his office organizes the sweep every year on Valentine's Day, so "it would seem to me these people should know we're coming."
The fugitives caught were wanted for crimes including robbery, theft, driving under the influence, failure to pay child support and failure to appear in court, Williams said. Sheriff's deputies and other officers from Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties and Pennsylvania State Police troopers participated in the sweep.
Williams urged fugitives to turn themselves in. Tipsters who know of any fugitives' whereabouts can call deputies at (215) 686-3578.
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - February 14, 2013 (WPVI) -- The Philadelphia Sheriff's Office, along with other city and regional police agencies, rounded up dozens of suspects in a Valentine's Day warrant sweep.
The Action Cam was there early Thursday morning as police went to various homes in the city in search of the fugitives.
The suspects were wanted for everything from attempted murder, domestic violence, failure to pay child support and other crimes.
In all, nearly 300 people were targeted in the sweep.
The sweep is a Valentine's Day tradition for the sheriff's office, which has been conducted for 16 years.
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Twenty-two people are in custody today after an early morning sweep by the Philadelphia sheriff’s department for parents who haven’t paid child support.
But the sweep netted more than that.
Sheriff Jewell Williams says the sweep started about 2am and wrapped up five hours later. But instead of using just Philadelphia records, he says, the sweep included the surrounding counties using state police records.
“We found that there were other outstanding warrants — for burglary, robbery, theft, receiving stolen property, aggravated assault, simple assault,” he tells KYW Newsradio, “and we just included those other counties, and we found that we had people who were wanted for more than just not paying child support.”
Williams says some will have to serve time behind bars because they violated the child support agreement. And he says with apparent satisfaction that those who committed additional crimes will also be off the streets.
The tragic killing of three people in the lobby of the New Castle Co. Courthouse in Wilmington, Del. is something the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County tries actively to prevent, said Sheriff Jewell Williams.
Sheriff Williams said, “First of all, I want to offer my condolences and prayers to the families of those killed as well as those wounded in this horrific incident.”
He then stated, “The security and safety of the general public, judges, witnesses, defendants and the accused at the Criminal Justice Center, Traffic Court and Family Court here in Philadelphia are all our responsibility and we are constantly training our Deputy Sheriffs and reviewing our security at each.”
“Unfortunately, when someone with a gun is determined to use it, such a scenario is a challenge for even the best security,” he added.
The shootings in Wilmington occurred in the lobby of the county court house prior to people going through the metal detector. The lobby of the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia is constantly monitored by uniformed personnel who are trained to respond in an “active shooter” scenario.
“We expect to have a bike patrol (two) outside the perimeter of the CJC in a few days, and though we are down in personnel overall, we will continue to keep a uniformed presence in the outer perimeter of the building,” added Sheriff Williams.
December 12, Philadelphia--Ana Sostre-Ramos, Director of Hispanic Community Affairs in the Office of the Philadelphia Sheriff has been named one of the 2012 Delaware Valley’s Most Influential Latinos by the Delaware Valley’s Most Influential Latinos Foundation.
Deputy Sostre-Ramos joined the Office of the Sheriff, City and County of Philadelphia, in 1989 as a Special Deputy originally assigned security detail in the Domestic Court Unit of City of Philadelphia. Later she served in Internal Affairs and the Real Estate Divisions in the Sheriff’s Office.
“I am humbled and very proud,” said Sostre-Ramos, “to be recognized by the Foundation for the services the Sheriff’s Office provides to the community.”
Born in Yabuco, Purerto she ran track and field during her high school days. She received her undergraduate degree in social work from Universidad del Sagrado Corazion in P.R. She attended Temple University and was awarded a Deputy Sheriff certificate from Dickinson Law School.
She is a member of the Labor Council for Latin-American Advancement, serves on the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade Committee in Philadelphia and is a Red Cross Volunteer.
For the past seven years the Delaware Valley’s Most Influential Latinos Foundation has made its task to recognize individuals who have made great contributions to the Delaware Valley’s Latino community and the community at large. This year the awards dinner was held at the Hyatt Regency at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams showed up at his first foreclosure sale Tuesday and unveiled an executive order to prohibit sheriff's employees or contractors, or their family members, from bidding on foreclosed properties.
"Right now my job is to clean this sheriff's office up, make sure we pass the smell test on everything that we do," Williams told reporters. "I don't think having employees bid on properties at this time is a good thing."
Too many employees in the Sheriff's Office have access to inside information that could be helpful at auctions, he said.
"Our mission is to make sure that the office is transparent, make sure that we're accountable to the public and to the folks who put their money in the Sheriff's Office to bid for properties," Williams said.
Asked for a copy of the executive order, Williams' spokeswoman, Harriet Lessy, provided the following text: "No employee . . . including deputies, administrative staff and/or contractors to the office, are permitted to bid on a property listed for sale today or at any time in the future. That includes, too, members of the immediate family of anyone employed or anyone that resides in the same household as anyone employed by the Office of the Sheriff."
On paper, the new restrictions are significantly stronger than those imposed by Sheriff John Green, who ran the office from 1988 until the end of 2010.
But they do not address the main conflict-of-interest questions that have plagued the sheriff's real estate operations: personal real estate transactions between the sheriff's real estate personnel and the mortgage companies and speculators who frequently buy properties at the sheriff's auctions.
In January 2006, shortly after a report in the Philadelphia Daily News questioned the personal real estate dealings of Darrell Stewart, who ran the sheriff's auctions, Green adopted a new policy prohibiting his real estate personnel from bidding on properties.
The prohibition extended to employees who processed legal documents or other paperwork related to sheriff's sales.
But Green allowed the rest of his employees to participate in the sheriff's auctions and decided it was OK for even his real estate personnel to buy properties from mortgage companies and speculators who pick up real estate at sheriff's sales.
Green retired at the end of 2010 and was replaced by his longtime chief of staff, Barbara Deeley. At the end of her first week in office, she transferred Stewart to a job working at the city prisons. He has since resigned.
The first of several internal changes within the Philadelphia Sheriff’s office took place recently when former Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley, in consultation with newly sworn-in Sheriff Jewell Williams, fired several non-civil service employees who were holding patronage jobs.
Although the exact number of terminations hasn’t been made public yet, at least 17 people handling foreclosure sales were released. Williams, who is taking over after the retirement of former Sheriff John Green, steps into a city department that has come under increasingly intense scrutiny. Green resigned after 22 years in office amid allegations that he violated city ethics rules. According to an in-depth investigation by the City Controller’s office, Green allegedly allowed two companies owned by friends to squirrel away at least $6.2 million dollars in fees over a six-year period.
“The former Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley let these people go, but I backed her decisions. Traditionally, this is what happens when a new administration takes over — out with the old and in with the new,” Williams said. Williams has promised a high degree of public transparency in the department and in an earlier interview also promised to axe those employees who had been holding patronage jobs.
“I can tell you right now, there are going to be some major changes in personnel,” Williams said. “Some of the patronage people who are doing a bad job are going to be terminated. If their political patrons have a problem, well, they can come to me. But there are going to be some changes.”
Williams said that new policies will be instituted, including granting the media access to the sheriff sale process.
“We want to open up the entire process to the media,” Williams said. “I’ve been to the Criminal Justice Center and visited the different courtrooms, letting the deputies know there are going to be some changes that will make things easier for them. We’re also in the process of acquiring a new computer system. My goal is to restore public confidence and trust in this department. The different agencies that were in here, that wasn’t under my administration and what’s in the past is the past. But we’ve got some cleaning up to do; we’re looking at some monies in different accounts. Unfortunately, some partnerships have had to be dissolved — but that’s what has to happen when there’s a new administration.”
At the end of 2011, federal investigators filed criminal charges against a former employee of the Sheriff’s office, accusing him and three other people of writing more than $400,000 in fraudulent checks on the department’s accounts.
According to United States Attorney Zane David Memeger, Richard Bell, Robert Rogers, and Jackiem Wright and Reginald Berry were each charged with one count of wire fraud. Bell, who is a former employee of the Sheriff’s Department, was also charged with willfully filing a false federal income tax return.
“Essentially, someone at some point would cash or deposit these checks and the goal was to take the money out and whoever was involved, they would divide the proceeds,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Grieb in a published report.
According to the indictments, Bell was employed in the Accounting Department of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. Allegedly, between 2007 and 2010, Bell wrote a series of fraudulent checks that were drawn on bank accounts of the Sheriff’s Office to unauthorized individuals and companies.
In the indictment against him, Bell allegedly then forwarded over $400,000 of those checks to Rogers. Rogers is accused of cashing those checks that were made payable to himself.
He allegedly forwarded the other checks to other individuals to either cash or deposit. In once instance, Rogers forwarded over $147,000 in checks made payable to one company to Wright and Berry. Wright and Berry then deposited the checks into the company bank account, and withdrew or attempted to withdraw the proceeds. Investigators say that the co-defendants allegedly shared the cash.
If convicted, Bell faces a sentence of 33 to 41 months in prison. Rogers faces a sentence of 27 to 33 months in prison and Wright and Berry each face a sentence of 15 to 21 months in prison.
Jewell Williams is no stranger to the Sheriff’s Office. He served as Chief of Criminal Operations in the Sheriff’s Office from 1994 to 2000. He’s pledged to bring much greater transparency to the department than was evidenced in the past.
“There really aren’t too many problems with the Criminal Operations aspect, but on the real estate side there are some issues,” he said.
In 2010, City Controller Alan Butkovitz raised questions over a failure by the Sheriff’s Office to cooperate with his auditors over requested financial documents. Butkovitz launched a full-scale forensic audit of 11 custodial accounts under the Sheriff's purview estimated at $53 million dollars.
Williams said his election as sheriff is about shaking up the status quo and bringing much needed reform to the department. Some of the established community programs are going to continue, he said.
“We’re bringing in a new financial person, Ben Hayllar, who was the former finance director for the city under the Rendell Administration. I intend to continue with the Office’s Mortgage Foreclosure Prevention programs and the related town hall meetings,” he said. “We should continue to work with home owners to keep their properties. I think that’s one of the ways to build stability in communities. I also intend to hold the banks accountable for what they aren’t doing in our communities. They spend millions on promotions; we need to start reinvesting that money into the communities where the depositors come from.”