Promising to “remove the dark cloud” over the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff-elect Rochelle Bilal on Tuesday introduced a 23-member transition team and presented her goals for her four-year term.
“Before we can change our relationship with the citizens of Philadelphia, we must make changes and reform ourselves,” Bilal, a retired 27-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, said during a news conference at the Center City law office of Robert McCann, one of her transition team members.
“The badge should not push people away, but make people feel safe," she said. "I want children and seniors and everyone to respect our officers. And likewise, our officers must and will respect the citizens of this city.”
Bilal, 62, is president of the Guardian Civic League, an organization of black law-enforcement officers, and secretary of the Philadelphia Chapter of the NAACP.
When she’s sworn in Jan. 6 as Philadelphia’s first elected female sheriff, she will inherit an office rife with scandal and low morale. Outgoing Sheriff Jewell Williams has been named in a handful of lawsuits filed by office employees accusing him of sexual harassment, retaliation, and creating a hostile work environment.
In June, Dante Austin, the office’s first openly gay deputy sheriff, died by suicide at his desk. In August, John Green, the longest-serving sheriff in city history, was sentenced in federal court for taking $675,000 in bribes and is serving a five-year prison sentence.
Bilal grew up in North Philadelphia, where distrust of police was strong, she said Tuesday. Among her top goals, she said, are to more fairly carry out property foreclosures and evictions, prevent gun violence, create partnerships with neighboring sheriff’s offices, and reform the office so she and its employees lead by example.
She will lead an office charged with providing security in courtrooms and transporting prisoners to court, among other duties. The office has an annual budget of $25 million and more than 400 employees, more than 300 of whom are in uniform.
“I know I have so much to do; however, I’m here to say, I’m ready,” she said. “The truth is, there is a ton of work to do. The truth is, nothing is going to be fixed overnight or corrected overnight, but we’re going to be able to stand up and begin that change.”
Bilal said she intends to “eliminate the dark cloud that has hovered over this office for decades. I make this solemn commitment to make this office become the shining star not only in Philadelphia, but across the country.”
Transition team co-chair Bishop J. Louis Felton of the Mount Airy Church of God in Christ said that in Bilal, city voters chose the best candidate to turn the Sheriff’s Office around. “We will not only do better with Bilal, we have the best,” he said. “We are thankful for this shift in the atmosphere that our city may reach its highest and fullest potential.”
The other transition co-chairs are Louis A. Valori Jr., owner of a security and risk-management firm, and Paula Peebles, president of Renaissance Community Development Corp.
Bilal said she would not hand out dozens of pink slips, as District Attorney Larry Krasner did days after taking office in January 2018, but instead would give current employees the chance to prove themselves. “My transition team will be interviewing everybody,” she said. “Everybody has the opportunity to reapply in the positions so that we can see how they fit with the new sheriff’s policies and the things we want going on in the Sheriff’s Office.”
Bilal requested at least 90 days after taking office to be judged on her performance. “We can tell you what we’re going to do,” she said, “but we have to show you when we get in there.”