A police car drives by 15th and Erie in North Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

One of four questions on the May 16 primary ballot in Philadelphia would change city charter (essentially, the city’s constitution) to create a new Office of the Chief Public Safety Director.

After studying governments in Trenton, Newark, Chicago, and other cities, City Council concluded Philly needs a similar leadership position to coordinate safety programs across departments and help reduce crime and violence.

The director’s job would pay $265,000 a year, and report directly to the mayor. Applicants would be required be approved by Council, and have “five years of senior leadership experience in a law enforcement agency, legal entity, or other public safety position,” per the bill placing the measure on the ballot.

What you’ll see on the ballot

Should The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to create the Office of the Chief Public Safety Director and to define its powers, duties and responsibilities?

What it means

Voting “yes” would mean you would want to create a new high-level position to coordinate use of personnel, equipment, and other resources within various city departments, notably police, fire, and prisons, but also recreation, emergency management, and others. 

The director would provide guidance and initial approvals for programs and policies, such as violence prevention programs. The person would also consult on safety-related budgets, evaluate program effectiveness, oversee the security of city facilities, and maintain relationships with the schools, courts, and outside organizations. Unusually for a cabinet-level position, the mayoral-selected candidate for director would require Council approval.

Who’s for it?

The new position was proposed in February by Council President Darrell Clarke and several other council members. Clarke said the severity of the city’s crime and gun violence demanded oversight of safety efforts from a high position in government.

“We know we need better coordination and collaboration in how Philadelphia departments and agencies respond to gun violence,” Clarke said. “A Chief Public Safety Director – whose chief responsibilities include fostering better collaboration among all relevant agencies in our city – is a policy initiative well worth trying.”

Others who have voiced support for the new office include mayoral candidates Cherelle Parker, Allan Domb, and James DeLeon.

More from Billy Penn

Who’s against it?

Mayor Jim Kenney vetoed the council bill that put the measure on the ballot. Council overrode the veto, only the second time it’s done so during his tenure. Kenney objected to the expedited timeline on which the bill was passed and noted that the managing director is already responsible for overseeing public safety. The new position could complicate lines of authority in the administration and decrease accountability, he wrote in a letter to Council. 

Administration officials are also concerned the measure could limit future mayors’ ability to shape their own cabinets because it sets the director’s specific job responsibilities and qualifications, the Inquirer reported. Mayors currently can appoint deputy mayors to oversee public safety or other areas.

Mayoral candidates Helen Gym and Rebecca Rhynhart have also said they oppose the measure.

Avatar photo

Meir Rinde is an investigative reporter at Billy Penn covering topics ranging from politics and government to history and pop culture. He’s previously written for PlanPhilly, Shelterforce, NJ Spotlight,...