Payments to Philadelphia's city treasury and utilities, from mortgage foreclosures and delinquent tax, gas and water bills, surged to $58.3 million last year, a 40% jump from $34.4 million in 2013, according to a statement from the city's elected Sheriff, Jewell Williams. The office, which also transport prisoners, has in the past been accused of inefficiency and favoritism in its management of delinquent property accounts.

"The increase in revenue can be attributed to two changes," says Williams' office: First: a new policy "that requires purchasers of properties to make final settlement within thirty days after the sale is held. In the past, final payment could be made months after a property was sold." Second, "a new data management system which increased the speed of processing sales and collecting payments."

“The faster we get paid for properties, the faster we can send delinquent taxes and municipal fees to the City,” Williams said in a statement. The payments include $22.7 million in back taxes from foreclosed properties, $8.5 million in back water bills, and $5.4 million to the city-owned Philadelphia Gas Works. 

Willaims also says his office has speeded up processing deeds to foreclosure buyers to "20 days or less," from "months" in the past. "People who purchase properties at sheriff sales need a deed to take possession of the property and return it to productive use," Wiliams added.


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A Deputy Sheriff who died back in 1982 trying to stop two men from robbing a bar in West Philadelphia now has a plaque dedicated in his honor, laid in the sidewalk in front of the Criminal Justice Center.

It’s the 266th Hero Plaque Dedication, but organizer James Binns notes Roy Fortson, Jr. was the first Philadelphia Deputy Sheriff to be killed in the line-of-duty, since the office was founded in 1750.

“He could have taken a pass. The law enforcement officer in him came out and he did engage them, but was shot five times and killed.”

His family is grateful for the recognition, including Fortson’s widow, Edna.

“My heart is overwhelmed. I feel the love that you showed my husband. As a servant of god, he did what he was required to do that night, not knowing that it would be his last.”

Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams says laying the plaque outside the Criminal Justice Center serves as a reminder of the challenges brave officers face, and that “we will never forget a fallen officer.”


Written by Steve Tawa for CBS News on June 1, 2014.

For Helen Clowney, working with and serving the neighbors on her neatly kept, tree-lined block in North Philadelphia has been a labor of love - one that has endured a half-century.

Looking out on the cherry blossoms that brighten the 2200 block of North Woodstock Street, Clowney speaks with pride of the street where she has lived her entire life and served as a block captain for 50 years. She is retiring this spring.

"It's a family block. It's like family. We're very close," Clowney said Thursday.

"If somebody gets sick, everybody steps in and helps," she said. "If they need something, we try to help them get it. It's just a close-knit block."

Last week, Clowney was honored by her neighbors, family, and community leaders at her church, St. Martin de Porres. More than 100 people attended.

Clowney, a widow who doesn't like to discuss her age, said she knew every person living on the block of 70 homes between Susquehanna Avenue and Dauphin Street.

"I can tell you who lives in each house," Clowney said.

And her neighbors know her for her activism, her generosity, and the whistle she blows when calling for them to participate in street cleanups several times a year.

"Miss Helen is one of the icons of this block," said neighbor Paul Richards. "She's going to be sorely missed as our block captain."

When it's time to clean up the block, "she gets out that whistle," Richards said. "She goes from the top of the block, blowing that whistle, and she has a few of the kids knocking on doors."

When the work is done, she gives everyone a treat, Richards said, usually a pretzel and water ice.

He and others said Clowney is known for organizing the street's annual Memorial Day block party.

Another neighbor, Bernice Hines, also recalled Clowney blowing her whistle to call out neighbors for projects.

"She used the whistle to say, 'All you lazy birds, get out here. You're a part of this block. Show your commitment to it,' " Hines said.

Asked what she liked about being a block captain, Clowney said, "It just makes me feel good inside. When we have affairs in the block, we never have any trouble. Everybody is just family."

Clowney noted that she has a cocaptain, Willie Mae Clark, who has worked with her for many years. "She's a very good person, and I think she should be recognized, too," Clowney said.

Clowney, a graduate of Philadelphia High School for Girls who spent her life as a stay-at-home mother with one child, said she enjoyed walking children to school and back home again.

Among her other interests, she said, she enjoys spending time at the Martin Luther King Older Adult Center on Cecil B. Moore Avenue, where she leads a poetry class.

Clowney also likes to cut a few steps doing line dances. She said she enjoys doing the electric slide and the cha-cha slide. "The Baltimore - that's my favorite. They named that one after me," she quipped. "I taught my granddaughter, my son-in-law, and my daughter."

Her son-in-law, Tony Leonard, said Clowney goes to meetings with elected officials in the community and attends monthly meetings with police at the 22d District at 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue. She describes Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who grew up in the neighborhood, as "two of my kids."

She is pleased that a neighbor, Jannette Robinson, will take over as block captain. Clowney said the street also has three junior block captains, two boys and a girl.

Clowney said she was stepping down because "I thought it was time enough for someone else to step up to the plate and take my place after 50 years."

Hines, her neighbor, stood on her front steps and looked down proudly.

"You see this block and the way it looks. It looks this way because of her," Hines said. "She has worked hard to keep it intact."


Written by Vernon Clark for the Philadelphia Inquirer on May 6, 2014.

Last week Sheriff Jewell Williams lead Operation Sunrise, a city wide sweep which brought in over a dozen fugitives with outstanding warrants.

AT-RISK YOUTH have voices too, and InLiquid Art and Design has created an exhibition that reflects those voices.

One of them belongs to Harmony Ellerbe, 14, a seventh-grader at Avery D. Harrington School in West Philadelphia.

Harmony, 14, said her art class had inspired her to write "Violence," a poem about a girl who was raped as a child, who lost her father to gun violence, whose brother was jailed and whose mother was addicted to drugs.

One little girl in a life full of violence, watched her dad get shot, seen her brother go to jail. Living in hell.

And that's just the beginning.

"The poem was about something that was going on with my friend in her life," Harmony said. "I felt bad for her and I was thinking about her.

"In art class we talked about violence, and it just came to me."

She read "Violence" to classmates and other artists at a preview of the exhibition yesterday.

The Traveling Youth Art Exhibition - on display until April 30 at Family Court, on Vine Street near 18th - features art by more than 25 girls and boys, each portraying a vision of community and home.

"Art is a really necessary way of expressing yourself, both positively and negatively," said Rachel Zimmerman, executive director of InLiquid, a nonprofit organization on American Street near Master, North Philadelphia.

The exhibition contains work by students at Edison High School, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Guild, the Harrington School and a program of Moore College of Art. Each visual or poetic artist has experienced the criminal-justice system, spent time in detention or been affected by it.

"I do a lot of social-justice art with my students. It gives students a voice," said Leila Lindo, an art teacher at Harrington on, Baltimore Avenue near 53rd Street.

"I like them to do art about topics that are important to them, and a lot of the time the things that are important to them have to do with social justice and their rights."

Lindo said that Harmony's poem shows how art can be therapeutic. The school's display, "My Neighborhood, My Community and Me," features collages that show boys and girls in their communities.

"It gives students the opportunity to open up and lets them know that they don't have to suppress how they feel and show people their artistic abilities," Harmony said of the exhibition.

The Sheriff's Office is sponsoring the exhibition, to support innovative programs that provide second chances to young people, some of whom have been in detention. InLiquid is putting on the exhibition in partnership with the Juvenile Law Center.

"The vast majority of these young people are from neighborhoods with known gangs, high crime rates and urban blight; they need creative options - including art programs, education and job opportunities," Sheriff Jewell Williams said. "I'd rather see the youth packing pens, paintbrushes, paper, notebooks and computers than packing pistols, shotguns or gang tattoos."

The exhibition can be seen from 2 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It will travel regionally after April.


Written by Ashley Kuhn for the Philadelphia Daily News on April 1, 2014.

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.

Dire straits

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.”

Court delays

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.”

Downplayed

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.”


Written by Alex Wigglesworth for the Metro on April 17, 2013.

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."


Written by Jan Ransom for the Daily News on April 17, 2013.

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