Election 2020

Ballot question: Should Philly City Hall have its own office to advocate for crime victims?

Other, similar offices already exist in various places — but none at the level of the mayor’s cabinet. 

Vista del Ayuntamiento de Filadelfia desde el Templo Masónico

Vista del Ayuntamiento de Filadelfia desde el Templo Masónico

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
maxmarin-byline

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


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:

¿Hable español? Esta guía ha sido traducida por Kensington Voice


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.

What you’ll see on the ballot

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?

What it means

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?

For:

  • Philadelphia City Council
  • Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration
  • District Attorney Larry Krasner
  • The Pa. Office of the Victim Advocate

Against

  • Progressive political group Reclaim Philadelphia gave a “no” recommendation for this ballot question, out of concern that “any policy recommendations coming from the [proposed victim advocacy office] will only perpetuate the criminalization of poor, Black, and Brown communities and mass incarceration as a response to violence and harm.”

 


MORE ELECTION 2020:


To chat with a live person about any question you have regarding voting, text EQUALINFO to 73224.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2020 stories.

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn story

Find everything you need to know about Philly, every day — in clear, direct language, like a good friend might say.

No clickbait, no cliffhangers: the Billy Penn morning newsletter.

Thanks for supporting Billy Penn!

Test your local knowledge — join us for the next Philly Quizzo virtual event, or take the quiz online.

Lock in your support

Reader support powers our local pandemic reporting. A monthly membership helps lock it in.

Can we count on you as a Billy Penn sustainer?