The Office of the Philadelphia Sheriff underwent an historic change in leadership when Rochelle Bilal was sworn into office on Jan. 6, 2020. The Bilal administration inherited organizational, cultural, and financial challenges, however, was able to implement reforms needed to move forward. Sheriff Bilal formed a 23-member transition team to review all departments under her leadership. Surveys were issued to all departments to create a clear picture of the office’s strengths and challenges. One year later, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the office has made significant changes.
The Sheriff made several changes to the executive staff, including hiring a new undersheriff, a Chief of Staff, and promoting a new Chief Deputy and Chief Financial Officer.
The most significant change to civil enforcement was the addition of delivering Protection from Abuse orders from the courts. Since the pandemic has shut down the courts, virtual hearings have been conducted. A copy of each order is automatically forwarded to the Civil Enforcement Unit. Officers assigned to this unit traveled throughout the city to serve these orders.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, in-person Sheriff sales were also postponed by court order. The department is working to modify and update the Sheriff sales process.
During the unrest of last year, Sheriff’s Deputies secured all court buildings. Additionally, the City Commissioners’ Office requested the Sheriff’s Office provide security at voting locations and secure and transport completed ballots during the November 2020 election.
The Firearms Unit, under the direction of the Sheriff, put in place state-of-the-art security procedures at its armory. Safeguards were established to protect firearms that are stored and computer-generated tracking systems were put in place to track weapons.
The Sheriff’s H.A.R.T. (Homeowners Asset Recovery Team) unit is part of the Real Estate department and is responsible for identifying and locating owners who are owed excess funds for properties sold at a Sheriff sale for more than the debt owed. As of today, the H.A.R.T. unit has disbursed $1.4 million to previous homeowners.
The Bilal administration has focused on community outreach. The office has targeted areas of high gun violence to offer free gun locks to those who need them. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 18,000 boxes of food has been distributed to those in need throughout the city. The Constituent Services Department works directly with the public and has been a referral source for constituents who need assistance with various housing-related concerns. The office hosted a Community Virtual Town Hall to keep the community informed during the pandemic. More than 1,500 viewers participated.
As the pandemic continues, the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office wants to ensure that Philadelphia residents can remain in their homes. It is important that local residents contact the Sheriff’s Office if they believe they have been illegally evicted by someone who was impersonating a sworn Deputy Sheriff Officer.
The Sheriff’s Office will also continue to host free food and produce giveaways and community virtual town halls to answer any questions that residents may have. Philadelphians can contact the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office directly by calling 215-686-3530 or 215-686-3542 or online at PhillySheriff.com.