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. 

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 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.
 

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 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.

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.

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:

  • Approximately $10 million transferred to the city and $23.4 million to the state as proceeds from the legitimate sale of properties. 
  • Approximately $2 million returned in long overdue refunds to individual homeowners and defendants. 
  • Signing historic MOU agreements with both the City of Philadelphia and the First Judicial District to define clear relationships and mutual responsibilities that establish transparency between the Sheriff, the City and the Courts.    
  • Working to install a new computer system to replace an outmoded technology that restricts the ability of the office to be responsive and timely in addressing the needs of citizens as well as city and court officials.

Our office has also:

  • Conducted 20 seminars teaching citizens “How to Buy Property at a Sheriff Sale” that’s been attended by 2500 mostly moderate income people and first time homebuyers and/or community groups looking to invest in their own communities.
  • Conducted six mortgage foreclosure prevention workshops in conjunction with community organizations
  • Continue to work with Women Against Abuse in protecting those women coming for court appearances and educating them on reaching out to a sheriff’s deputy if they feel threatened or unsafe in a courtroom.

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.

 

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.   

 

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.