Why does Philadelphia need an elected Sheriff?
The Sheriff’s policies protect working-class people
As Philadelphia seeks ways to reduce expenses, some cost-cutters are suggesting the Sheriffs Office be eliminated and its functions handed over to
Councilman Frank DiCicco, who also works part-time as a real estate agent, has introduced a proposed amendment to the City Charter that, if
approved by the voters, would eliminate the Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriffs Office handles a range of functions: it enforces court orders, including evictions and homes auctioned off at sheriffs sales;
maintains order and security in the courts; and transports individuals in prison to their trials.
Proponents of the change say the move might save the city $4 million a year. Here is the question that continues to be unanswered: What is
it going to cost you?
Ten Reasons to keep an elected Sheriff in Philadelphia
1) Protects Constituents from Undue Political Influences: As an “elected” law enforcement officer “directly responsible” to the citizens, the
Sheriff provides a check and balance with other elements of local government. He/She protects the populace from undue political or corporate
influences on issues related to sheriff’s sales, evictions and other issues associated with neighborhood security and public safety. In
Philadelphia, Sheriff John Green used his political clout to ensure that national banks and lenders followed the rules that required them to try to
do loan workouts and loan modifications wherever possible. He went to court twice to protect homeowners’ rights.
2) Keeps Power in the Hands of Voters: Voters have the right to choose who is to “serve” as Sheriff, the “chief law enforcement officer” on the
local level. And the National Sheriff’s Association says local voters in jurisdictions throughout the nation have nearly universally decided to
maintain the Office of Sheriff as an “elected” position.
3) Timely Responses to Citizen Complaints: When citizens have a complaint concerning some problem in their county, the Sheriff ultimately is their
best remedy. The Sheriff often can respond faster to any citizen’s complaint than any police department. As complaints of mortgage fraud, predatory
lending and servicing began to surface, Sheriff Green appointed a highly skilled internal investigator to meet with constituents and make sure
their complaints got to the appropriate authorities. Philadelphia was among the first cities to do so. The FBI now estimates the losses of mortgage
fraud at $14 billion.
4) The Sheriff’s Office is Leading Model of Inclusion: Among local governments, the Office of the Philadelphia Sheriff has one of the best track
records for inclusiveness in contracting procedures. It far exceeds the city’s record for contracting with minority and female-owned firms. In
addition, it posts public notices in ethnic and community newspapers that deliver products in a diversity of city neighborhoods,
5) Keeps Sheriff’s Sales Open to Small Investors: The Philadelphia Sheriff has consumer-friendly programs designed to open up the sheriffs sales
auctions to small and minority investors and increase monies returned to homeowners after sales. Years ago, lawyers representing financial
institutions were virtually the only ones attending sheriff’s sales. At present, banks and financial institutions take back property at sheriff’s
sale approximately 25 percent of the time. Policies and programs aimed at diversifying sheriff’s sale investors and protecting the rights of
homeowners during foreclosure are not likely to be continued under an appointed sheriff. The Sheriff’s office disbursements, including homeowner
payments, city fees, back taxes and more, increased from $39.8 million in 2003 to $83.5 million in 2009.
6) Protects Working-Class Jobs: Once the administrative functions of the Sheriff’s office are transferred to the Department of Finance, it will be
easier to contract out work and services to private corporations and eliminate working-class jobs.
7) Enriches Quality of Life: The Sheriff employs hundreds of local residents who generously volunteer in their neighborhoods and churches, support
local schools and contribute to the quality of life. The city’s working-class neighborhoods are the lifeblood of this city and their stability must
8) Preserves Rich Tradition and History: The ongoing “election” of the Office of Sheriff is consistent with our nation’s democratic history,
traditions and historical practices, according to the National Sheriff’s Association. In local jurisdictions in which a Sheriff is “appointed,”
there can be a decrease in the quality and continuity of law enforcement services. When the Sheriff is subject to the political and economic whims
and influences of local officials and the business sector, issues related to local law enforcement often become “politicized” to the public’s
detriment. Recently, the Philadelphia Sheriff was asked to cut back on overtime spent deploying deputies to transport prisoners and protecting
those who work in or visit local court rooms.
9) If It Doesn’t Work, Then What? At least three major local jurisdictions that had an appointed sheriff have returned to an electoral office. In
Multnomah County, Ore., the Sheriff was appointed from January 1, 1967 to late 1978, during which time the local county’s board appointed six (6)
different Sheriffs. Voters – dissatisfied with the “appointment” system – returned to the election of the Office of Sheriff. And while a Charter
Review Commission recently considered a proposal to return to the appointment of sheriff, it ultimately did not recommend a change. In King County,
Washington (i.e. the Seattle area), the position of Sheriff was elected until 1968. At that time, the Home Rule Charter of King County was amended
and the Sheriff became an appointed “Departmental” position, serving at the pleasure of the elected local county executive. After several years
under this appointment system, the voters went back to electing the Sheriff. King County voters concluded that their “Chief Law Enforcement
Officer” should be elected to perform safety and law enforcement services. And in Pierce County, WA. – on Nov. 7, 2006 voters passed Charter
Amendment 1 to change the sheriff’s position from appointed to elected. The first sheriff’s election in 30 years was held in 2008.
10) Arguments for Change Lack Empirical Evidence: According to the National Sheriff’s Association, there is no empirical data that proves police
departments headed by an appointed law enforcement official are more professional, creative, innovative or cost-effective than an elected sheriff.