~ May 10, 2023 ~
Sheriff’s Office Response to Philadelphia Inquirer
Chris Brennan from the Philadelphia Inquirer reached out to the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office via email with specific inquiries. Below is an outline of his comments/questions and our responses:
We photographed Sheriff Bilal at FDR Park Sunday as she stood near a Sheriff’s Office-branded tent, where deputies in uniform gave away items that included a baseball-style trading card featuring her picture and biography along with Sheriff’s Office-branded keychains and backpacks.
Our right-to-know requests for the Sheriff’s Office operations bank account, funded through fees paid to the agency, show that those public funds were used to pay for this promotional material.
That included thousands of dollars for tents, video production fees and “travel blankets for the holiday season.”
Can you explain Sheriff Bilal’s rationale for purchasing and distributing this promotional material, which seems to only alert people of the existence of her office at a time when she complains about that office being underfunded?
On Sunday, May 7, the Sheriff’s Office distributed bags to members of the public that included, information (in English and in Spanish) on what the Sheriff’s Office does, who we are, keychains, lanyards, and information about gun safety and the Homeowner Asset Recovery Program (which informs homeowners how to file a claim for excess proceeds from a Sheriff’s Sale). Most importantly, the bag also contained a “baseball-style trading card” (which is common within law enforcement) with the Sheriff’s face and bio, as it is important for members of the community to know who leads the Sheriff’s Office, her qualifications, and to put a face to a name.
In addition, our office works tirelessly to engage with the community that we serve. Our deputies and civilian staff work many outdoor community events regardless of inclement weather. This requires enough tents to accommodate staff, members of the community that attend, food, and giveaway items. Further, like many other law enforcement agencies in the city of Philadelphia, we employ a Director of Community Engagement.
And does she think that hiring a community engagement director is more important than filling the empty deputy positions that she has publicly complained about?
The Sheriff’s Office: [inquiry about community engagement director addressed in above response]
As you stated in your email, our office utilizes “the operations bank account funded through fees paid to the agency.” We would like to clarify that the account you are referring to is our “Cost Operations Payable” account that is funded through fees that we are statutorily permitted to collect as a result of the services we provide. These services include but are not limited to executing civil complaints, Protection from Abuse Orders, evictions, and writ of possessions. In fact, we are permitted to use those funds to cover shortfalls, such as purchasing materials for community engagement events, due to the underfunded budget of the office. However, the money collected in this account cannot legally be used for deputy sheriffs’ salaries. As you know, the Fraternal Order of Police negotiates deputy sheriffs’ salaries which go through appropriations decided by the Mayor and City Council. Therefore, deputy sheriffs’ salaries are contained in the budget (that is taxpayer dollars).
Lastly, we are constantly seeking qualified candidates to fill vacant deputy positions. However, aside from insufficient appropriations, there are other aggregating factors that determine whether those positions are successfully filled. It is misleading to combine the issue of deputy salaries with the use of our Cost Operations Payable account because the two are not connected.
We would appreciate your inclusion of our entire response in any article written by you or any of your colleagues.