Philadelphia will see a new city sheriff after the incumbent, Jewell Williams, was ousted in the Democratic primary by challenger Rochelle Bilal. While the effects of the change are not likely to significant – the Sheriff's Office simply does not do too much policy work in Philadelphia – the change is a sign of the times.
Incumbent Sheriff Loses in Primary
The incumbent sheriff, Jewell Williams, had served as Philadelphia's sheriff for two terms, beginning in the role at the beginning of 2012. Before becoming Philadelphia's sheriff, Mr. Williams had served in the State Legislature as the Representative for the 197th Legislative District, which serves most of North Philadelphia.
However, Mr. Williams had been embroiled in controversy after it came to light that thousands of dollars of taxpayer money had been used to settle two allegations of sexual harassment. A third allegation of sexual harassment is still pending in the courts.
The controversy seems to have been too much for Mr. Williams in the Democratic primary – challenger Rochelle Bilal, a former police officer in Philadelphia, took a strong victory over the incumbent. Ms. Bilal was also helped by her long history in leadership roles with the Guardian Civic League – an organization that advocates for the rights of minorities in interactions with police in Philadelphia.
With no Republican on the ballot for the sheriff position, Ms. Bilal is poised to become the first female sheriff in the city's history.
Limited Role of Sheriff's Office Minimizes Impact
The change is unlikely to shake much up in Philadelphia law enforcement. The Office of the Sheriff is not responsible for much in the way of investigating crimes or enforcing the law. Rather, the Sheriff's Office deals much more with logistical matters related to:
- Securing Philadelphia courthouses, including judges, witnesses, juries, and the public
- Transporting people who have been arrested to the courthouse for hearings
- Executing arrest warrants in the city
- Selling foreclosed and repossessed property in “Sheriff's Sales” and distributing money appropriately between the owner of the property and the lender
Because the Sheriff's Office focuses on logistical issues that do not involve much in the way of police discretion, a change at the top of the leadership in the Sheriff's Office is unlikely to drastically alter how things are done.
However, the results of the election are a sign of the times in Philadelphia: The election reined in the powers of someone who used his position to allegedly harass others in favor of someone who wants racial and gender equality.
Joseph D. Lento: Criminal Defense in Philadelphia
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia who legally represents those accused of a crime in the city and surrounding region. With his vigorous legal defense, he can fight for your rights and interests both inside the courtroom and outside of it.
Call his law office in Philadelphia at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online if you have been accused of a crime and want to invoke your rights and protect your future.