Other, similar offices already exist in various places — but none at the level of the mayor’s cabinet.
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Every office in Philadelphia’s labyrinthine city government must be codified in the Home Rule Charter, which serves as the city’s constitution. A “yes” vote on this ballot question would support the establishment of a new office that would advocate for crime victims within City Hall.
ALSO ON THE BALLOT:
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It comes with an as-yet unspecified cost, but most local lawmakers and law enforcement support the effort, especially as shootings and homicides spike in Philly. City Council passed the ballot measure in July, and now it goes to the voters.
Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to create the Office of the Victim Advocate to advocate for crime victims and to work with victim-services providers to coordinate, plan, train, educate, and investigate issues relating to crime victims?
The Office of the Victim Advocate would run out of the mayor’s administration. It would be headed by a director known as the “Victim Advocate,” who would be appointed by the mayor with City Council’s approval.
The scope of the office’s duties is broad:
- “Advocating for victims of crimes, as individuals and as a group”
- “Ensuring that crime victims know their rights”
- “Promoting cooperation among agencies that serve crime victims”
- “Providing training and support to agencies that interact with crime victims”
Many nonprofits and governmental agencies already offer victim services. Harrisburg has a statewide version of this proposal called the Office of Victim Advocate. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office also has its own victim and witness advocacy unit.
But officials say more support is needed.
Krasner spokesperson Jane Roh said the DA’s office supports the ballot measure. Their Victim and Witness Services Unit “provides support for victims and co-victims of crime and to connect them to services,” but she believes more lifelines are needed.
“[It’s] especially urgent among victims of crimes that do not result in arrest by police and are therefore not referred to the District Attorney’s Office,” Roh said, adding that unsolved crimes can leave victims with less support than when there is a suspect.
Similar ballot measures have installed new offices into the ever-growing apparatus of City Hall in recent years.
The June primary ended with voters approving a formal Department of Labor to be run out of the mayor’s office. Last year, voters greenlit another permanent office to help provide services to the city’s immigrant residents.
The city often creates new leadership roles to run these entities, which has a cost. The budget would likely be in the millions, but Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson’s office, which sponsored the ballot measure, said appropriations wouldn’t be determined until 2021.
Vincent Thompson, Johnson’s communications director, acknowledged that the police department, DA’s office and numerous nonprofits provide different types of victim outreach. But the proposed office, he said, would act as a one-stop clearinghouse.
“Within this patchwork system there is no central hub for policy, planning, and coordination of services,” Thompson said. “The office would also be able to facilitate technical assistance and training for agencies that regularly interact with victims and co-victims.”
Who’s for and against it?
- Philadelphia City Council
- Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration
- District Attorney Larry Krasner
- The Pa. Office of the Victim Advocate
- No known opposition.