Friday, October 9, 2015

City inching towards abolishing Philadelphia Sheriff's Office?

For months, we've been bringing you bad news about the Philadelphia's Sheriff's Office. Missing money, questionable no bid contracts, and a host of other problems.

City inching towards abolishing Philadelphia Sheriff's Office?

Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley. (File Photo)
Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley. (File Photo)

For months, we've been bringing you bad news about the Philadelphia's Sheriff's Office. Missing money, questionable no bid contracts, and a host of other problems.

Yesterday, we finally got some better news: Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley announced at a press conference that her office is ceding a lot of power to the Nutter Administration and the First Judicial District. The changes will last for a year, while an advisory board reviews the functions of the Sheriff's Office and makes recommendations for changes.

Many of the Sheriff's big financial decisions will now require the approval of other city officials, including Finance Director Rob Dubow, who will name the Sheriff's interim budget director. The Sheriff will follow city financial rules and regulations that it previously did not. And the court system will take on several other functions related to the Sheriff's sale process, and re-start sales (which had been frozen) on March 14th.

We view this as a positive step towards abolishing the Sheriff's Office entirely. As we've noted before, it makes no sense for an independent elected official to perform this office's functions. Giving control to other agencies shows that the city and courts can handle the operations.

It's also good news that Sheriff Sales are re-starting. We can have a separate debate about how to best keep Philadelphians from losing their homes, but it's a problem when something in city government is broken to the point that it cannot perform a primary function.

How did three different government agencies figure out how to share power, even temporarily? The move is part of a broader trend of cooperation within the criminal justice system. Already, the Nutter Administration, First Judicial District, and the DA's Office have teamed up to reduce the city's prison population.

We were disappointed that Mayor Nutter did not take this opportunity to call for the end of the independently elected Sheriff's Office. When asked about abolition, Nutter said that the subject of the press conference was on functionality, not reforming the overall structure of the office.

Nevertheless, during the press conference, Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley said she believed the office should continue to be independent. She doubled down on those remarks in an interview afterward.

Still, the debate shouldn't overshadow yesterday's message: The Sheriff may finally be on the road to reform -- and other government players now have a direct stake in the outcome.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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