You'll keep your phone, but in a locked bag
If you have business Monday at Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center, expect delays.
It’s the first day of a new court policy requiring most civilians entering the building to turn off their cellphones and put them into a magnetically sealed “Yondr” pouch that keeps phones locked within a designated no-phone zone.
You’ll be able to keep your cellphone with you, but you won’t be able to use it. When you’re ready to leave the courthouse at 13th and Filbert Streets, you’ll return to court personnel, who will unlock the pouch and return the phone.
“It’s a 21st century solution to a 21st century problem,” Jacqueline F. Allen, administrative judge for the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, said at a recent news conference unveiling the new system.
Not that there won’t be a learning curve before the public gets used to the new policy.
Court administrator Joseph H. Evers said added personnel will be in the courthouse lobby Monday to help guide the public through the phone-bagging process and security. He said the courts have acquired 4,500 Yondr pouches at a cost of $50,000.
The new system is court officials’ latest effort to deal with the problems caused by cellphones in a criminal courthouse. Rarely does a day go by without somebody’s cellphone going off in one of the building’s 11 floors of courtrooms.
Usually, the offender’s phone is confiscated by court personnel and returned at the end of the day. But sometimes an offender is incarcerated or fined for contempt of court. And then there is the continuing problem of intimidation: friends of people on trial taking surreptitious photos of witnesses to post on social media.
Years ago, people entering the courthouse were required to surrender their cellphones at security. The phones were placed in individual locked boxes until the owners left the building.
The system was scrapped because of the delays it caused and complaints that phones were damaged or returned to the wrong person.
“The new system keeps the phones in their hands,” Evers said. “It makes them their responsibility, not ours.”
Allen said she first read of the Yondr mobile phone locked box in an October article in the New York Times about how entertainers including Dave Chappelle have begun using them to prevent interruptions and recordings of their concerts.
Yondr has said the Philadelphia criminal courthouse is the first to use the phone pouches for all courthouse visitors.
Evers said the courthouse collected about 3,500 cellphones daily when it used its own locked box system.
Complaints about the new system are likely to come from lawyers who cannot phone clients who are late for a hearing and clients who can’t find their lawyers.
Some people will be exempted from the new requirement: current and former judges, current court employees, lawyers and law enforcement personnel with proper identification, people with disabilities who need an electronic device to communicate, credentialed news reporters with ID.
Jurors will not have to use the pouches but will surrender their phones to courtroom personnel if picked for a trial.
For everyone else, Evers had a suggestion that these days seems almost quaint: Use the pay phones on each floor of the Criminal Justice Center.
SOUTH PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Members of the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office were dispatched Friday to a South Philadelphia Five Below store for an important job - to buy gifts for children who need a little help this holiday season.
"Disabled veterans' families were going to be doing this year. We're also going to be doing family shelters, we're going to be doing schools. It's just all the way around. We're trying to reach as many families, the less fortunate," said Sheriff's Office Inspector Michael Bastone.
The list of who they are helping has expanded since the office started this tradition several years ago. The sale of T-shirts have raised more than $5,000 this year for the gifts.
"We have shirts printed every year, sheriff's shirts, which have a nice toy drive on the back. We sell these shirts for $20, and then the proceeds is used for the toys," said Bastone.
After making their list and checking it twice, they carried the goods away until it's time to play Santa.
"For us it's really great. To do this it's awesome. I mean it really touches our hearts for many of the officers," said Bastone.
Santa has a sleigh, and the Sheriff's Office has their own transport van and an entire fleet. They will use those vehicles to transport the toys to the children starting Saturday.
Even before he begins his new role as Pennsylvania Attorney General, Josh Shapiro wanted to assess the climate of the state’s most pervasive social justice issues from people who work with them everyday.
For Philadelphia, the highlighted issue was community gun violence.
So, with the help of Council President Darrell Clarke, the pair gathered top ranking officials like Police Commissioner Richard Ross, Sheriff Jewell Williams and District Attorney Seth Williams, and put them, literally, at a round table discussion with community-based organizations who work to help eliminate gun violence and support the families affected by it everyday.
“I consider myself someone who the community and the drug dealers or shooters look up to from my past,” said Michael Daniels, an organizer with the Philadelphia Anti Violence Coalition and an anti-gun violence organization called EDGE.
Daniels detailed his activism, which includes traveling to the homes of victims and perpetrators of gun violence, and trying to intervene before a situation escalates.
The Tuesday round-table panel discussion took place at the Stephen Klein Wellness Center near on Cecil B. Moore Avenue between 21st and 22nd streets.
The meeting included many of Philadelphia’s top and well-known anti violence advocates including: Bilal Qayyum, founder of the Father’s Day Rally Committee; Derrick Ford TK roles; Anthony Murphy, executive director of Town Watch Integrated Services; Dorothy Johnson Speight, founder of Mothers In Charge; Movita Johnson-Harrell, founder of the Charles Foundation; and several others.
Shapiro said at the meeting the boots-on-the-ground anti-violence advocates were now members of his new, non-traditional transition team. He will begin his role as attorney general in January.
“I don’t want the perspective of the insiders,” Shapiro said. “I want the perspective of the people.”
And he got it.
One particular perspective that surprised Shapiro came from 24-year-old John Solomon, a former perpetrator of gun violence turned anti-violence worker.
“How old were you when you picked up a gun for the first time?” Shapiro asked Solomon, nephew of anti-gun violence community organizer Darryl Shuler.
“I want to say around 11,” Solomon replied.
Solomon said he got the gun from a friend, and didn’t feel guilty about carrying it on occasion because guns were so pervasive in his community.
“Seeing it growing up, it kind of normalizes carrying guns,” he said. “It becomes normal in our culture.”
Out for more than a year after serving a nearly five-year sentence for a violent act, Solomon said it was prison that enabled him to slow down and see the broad impacts of gun violence.
Organizers at the panel discussed reaching children like Solomon before their situations escalate.
Education is a tool, according to Shuler, a community member who works on the ground closely with victims and perpetrators of gun violence, but for kids who are already using guns, sometimes it’s not enough.
“We need people like myself and other people sitting around this table to be able to go in this community and change the mind set,” he said.
Shuler also spoke on improving police, community relations, and applauded D.A. Williams for his new police-involved shooting protocol.
Economic empowerment was a tool many of the organizers said they use to help steer community members away from gun violence.
Ruben Jones, executive director of Frontline Dads, said his organization helps participants with “transitional employment.”
Terry Starks of Philadelphia Ceasefire uses entrepreneurship to uplift at-risk populations. His family is an example, he said, with his children each running a basketball camp, a dance team and making their own juice, between them.
Starks, who said he was just elected a ward leader in the city, had a message of solidarity for the officials.
“You can’t think that you’re by yourselves right now, because you’ve got somebody here on the other side that’s just scraping over there to see who’s going to help us too,” he said.
While every organization represented stood behind their community and advocacy work, many pointed to lack of resources to continue the work.
Every Murder Is Real uses a “holistic and trauma-informed approach” to addressing the impacts of gun violence in Philadelphia, the organization’s founder Chantay Love said Tuesday. They lobby in Harrisburg and partner with local hospitals to train medical staff what trauma looks like in African Americans and how to treat it.
“We are the grassroots, and no we don’t get the funding,” Love said. “They like our data, they like what we do, but they don’t really want to partner.”
Not just money, Ceasefire PA Executive Director Shira Goodman said elected officials can help community gun advocates find data on where guns are coming from and how they’re being acquired.
“We need to know that data exists,” Goodman said. “It is hidden behind the walls, you have the power to work with police jurisdictions across the state. The state police can get it.”
Ultimately, said Harrell-Johnson, “We just want the homicides to stop.
Attorney General-Elect Josh Shapiro hosted an event Tuesday to learn more about gun violence in the Philadelphia area.
Shapiro presided over a conference table at a health clinic in North Philadelphia. Seated closest to him were some of the city’s bold-faced names, including Police Commissioner Richard Ross, District Attorney Seth Williams and Council President Darrell Clarke. Elsewhere around the table were leaders of various organizations, such as Mothers In Charge, CeaseFirePA, and Father’s Day Rally Committee, who have been working on this issue for years.
“Where are these guns coming from? We need to know,” Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA said. “That data exists. It is hidden behind some walls. We have the power to work with police jurisdictions across the state to get it.”
Shapiro could not guarantee more funding for these groups, but he said he would like the state attorney general’s office to work more closely with them and “get them rowing in the same direction.” He also wants to collect the missing data on how illegal guns used in crimes are trafficked in the state.
“I was stunned at the number of guns that are coming from Pennsylvania that were on that chart,” Shapiro said. “I think it’s important that we gather that data in Pennsylvania as well.”
Shapiro also said he wants to expand the Philadelphia gun violence task force and push for a statewide requirement to report lost and stolen guns.
The first time John Solomon picked up a gun, he was 11 years old.
Pennsylvania's soon-to-be state Attorney General Josh Shapiro asked him if he felt it might be the wrong thing to do.
"It was common," Solomon said. "I grew up watching people exposing me to guns."
Today, Solomon is 24 and on probation after serving nearly five years in prison for assault with a firearm.
"My family members suffered because of the actions I committed, but I didn't know that at the time when I was in the streets," he said. "I was young and I was misguided. I didn't have any empathy."
Now, Solomon works with his uncle Darryl Shuler as a volunteer hoping to quell violence in North Philadelphia, trying to convince young people not to shoot each other.
Solomon and Shuler were among the more than 20 people who spoke at a community forum hosted by Shapiro Tuesday morning. As he prepares to be sworn in as Pennsylvania's highest law enforcement officer next month, Shapiro, a Democrat, is touring cities from Allentown to Pittsburgh to collect feedback on major issues, such as the opioid epidemic.
In Philadelphia, the conversation centered on gun violence. It's a city where 1,206 people have been shot — but survived — and 258 have been killed so far this year.
Shapiro presided over a conference table at a health clinic in North Philadelphia. Seated closest to him were some of the city's bold-faced names, including Police Commissioner Richard Ross, District Attorney Seth Williams and Council President Darrell Clarke. Elsewhere around the table were leaders of various organizations, such as Mothers In Charge, CeaseFirePA, and Father's Day Rally Committee, who have been working on this issue for years.
A common theme was a lack of funding for the patchwork of small groups such as Shuler's that work on the ground in violent neighborhoods and know the victims and the criminals personally.
"It's kids that don't have clothes," he said after the forum ended. "They don't have places to live. I'm telling you — they taking boarded houses up, un-boarding them up and living in them."
Many of these kids, Shuler said, turn to drug dealing to make money.
"A gun is the tool of the drug trade," said Malik Aziz, a longtime activist and former gang leader and drug dealer who served time in prison. "You got to have a gun to be in the drug trade because you don't want people to rob you ... so you can protect yourself.
"And the guns is easy to get. I can go right now — me — right down the street and get a gun if I want one," he said.
Several participants in the forum made the case that the state attorney general's office and local law enforcement need to partner with activists Shuler, Aziz and others who understand these issues — and the people affected by them — on a grass-roots level and often do their work on a shoestring.
An infestation of guns
Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, said many times, these organizations do not effectively partner with each other. And there is another issue:
"Where are these guns coming from? We need to know," Goodman said. "That data exists. It is hidden behind some walls. We have the power to work with police jurisdictions across the state to get it."
Shapiro could not guarantee more funding for these groups, but he said he would like the state attorney general's office to work more closely with them and "get them rowing in the same direction." He also wants to collect the missing data on how illegal guns used in crimes are trafficked in the state.
Shapiro said he recently met with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman whose office recently released an online tool to monitor gun-trafficking data.
"I was stunned at the number of guns that are coming from Pennsylvania that were on that chart," Shapiro said. "I think it's important that we gather that data in Pennsylvania as well."
Shapiro also said he wants to expand the Philadelphia gun violence task force and push for a statewide requirement to report lost and stolen guns.
On Sunday, September 25, Sheriff Jewell Williams joined Council President Clarke on NBC 10 @ Issue to discuss the importance of using gun locks. #GotAGunGetALock
Sheriff Jewell Williams recently named Deputy Sheriff Officer Robert Hunisch the Military Affairs Liaison for the sheriff’s office as part of its ongoing efforts of community outreach and education.
“Many veterans are returning from long campaigns overseas,” said Sheriff Williams, “and may have issues involving deeds, keeping up with mortgage payments, or looking to buy a property through a sheriff’s sale. We want to make sure they receive all the information necessary to aid in their readjustment”.
DSO Hunisch, who currently lives in South Philadelphia, served in Guantanamo Bay guarding some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world, and is an 8-year Army veteran who currently serves in the reserves.
“There are so many veterans out there who can use the help we are trying to provide,” he said, “and I can’t stress enough how important these outreach efforts are to helping soldiers get back to a normal life”.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are approximately 50,000 veterans nationwide who are homeless, and those veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are among the highest number of individuals who are losing their homes to foreclosure and/or taxes.
“We already sponsor numerous workshops and seminars to educate people on how to keep your home as well as how to purchase a home and it’s our goal to get as much of this information out as possible”, said Sheriff Williams, “and dedicated deputies like Hunisch are helping us do just that”.
For more information contact Joseph Blake at 215-495-4174.
Angel Lee was pregnant when she moved to the LGBTQ Home for Hope in North Philadelphia nearly six months ago. A man who refused to believe her sexual orientation had raped her.
She decided to keep the baby, whom she delivered this past Tuesday, naming her Sky Sakina Barnes Lee.
Before giving birth, Lee shared her story Sept. 1 with eight representatives from the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. They had come to the shelter on North Hutchinson Street to celebrate its one-year anniversary.
In that time, the home has hosted city, state and federal officials. It’s the first shelter for LGBT homeless people in Philadelphia.
Deputy Sheriff Dante Austin, one of two LGBT liaisons in the sheriff’s office, organized the anniversary visit. John Hodges, a civilian employee and the other LGBT liaison, also attended.
“I really want these officers to get to know the community,” Austin, an openly gay deputy, told the residents, “not in a cell and not in a courtroom. These statistics and these definitions are nice, but if they don’t know you, they won’t care.”
After Lee shared her story, the officers brought in bundles of baby supplies. Lee held back tears0 and, while posing for photos later, she joked, “I’m actually touching a cop without getting in trouble.”
Lee will have to leave the Home for Hope now that she has given birth. The shelter is not equipped to house an infant, officials said. She’s not sure yet where she will move. But she said she would still visit the residents.
“We’re a family here,” said Anya Martin, who has lived at the home for a year.
At the hour-long celebration, several residents shared their coming-out stories and experiences with law enforcement. Austin also talked about how the sheriff’s deputies had supported the LGBT community in the field.
For each person living in the Home for Hope, 38 officers sponsored 38 bags of donations. They included sheets, pillows and blankets, along with an array of toiletries. Austin also asked each officer to write a personalized note to the resident who would receive each bag. He included a statement from Sheriff Jewell Williams and a description of the work he’s doing as LGBT liaison.
Chief Sheriff Deputy Kevin Lamb said the office is so much more educated about the LGBT community because of Austin.
Deja Lynn Alvarez, director of the Home for Hope, said she was happy to have the sheriff’s office representatives spend time at the shelter and get to know the residents.
“It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s been a year,” she said, “with no real financial backing.”
Donations cover the expenses, which Alvarez said in July can run $8,000-$9,000 a month.
“It really sets in like, we’re still here, we’re still full,” Alvarez continued. “Our first year has been difficult. I feel like our second year will be better.”
Sakina Dean, the owner of the Home for Hope, said she’d like to purchase the 15-bedroom, nine-bathroom former convent. Its current owner, Northstar Manor Inc., has agreed to a price of $250,000, which is half of the place’s market value, according to Philadelphia property records.
Standing out front, facing the large side yard, Dean pointed out where she would eventually like to see a youth shelter and affordable housing. Alvarez would like to get experts to offer workshops on life coaching and personal finances.
“It has been a journey,” Dean said of the Home for Hope’s first year. “Through faith and through our mission, I believe it’s going to continue to be a success.”