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Council President Darrell Clarke
Council President Darrell Clarke was one of the three initial co-sponsors of the bill to create a new Office of the Chief Public Safety Director. Photo: Jared Piper/PHL Council.

Philly could have a Chief Public Safety Director after City Council overrides Mayor Jim Kenney’s veto

A change to the Home Rule Charter is in order, as the city wants to create an office dedicated to organizing departmental response to public safety.

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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney issued a rare veto on a bill passed by City Council that would change the city’s charter to create an Office of the Chief Public Safety Director only to have council vote 15-0 to override the veto and get the legislation put into law.

The bill was initially co-sponsored by Council President Darrell Clarke, and Councilmembers Curtis Jones Jr. and Kenyatta Johnson.

“People want us to do something differently,” Clarke told members of the press shortly after council’s veto override vote was completed.

The next step is for the measure to go to Philadelphia voters on a ballot, which Clarke said he hopes is this May during the city primary.

Should the voters pass it, an Office of the Chief Public Safety Director is created, and Philly joins cities like Chicago, New York City, among others that has an office to coordinate all or aspects of its public safety agencies like the police, fire department and other emergency services.

At first glance, Philly’s will look more similar to Chicago, which has an Office of Public Safety Administration that oversees the city’s police department, fire department, and office of emergency management and communications.

The new Public Safety Director would be appointed by the Mayor — a job that will likely fall to Kenney’s successor — and will have a wider scope of organizational duties, coordinating responses from the police, prisons, recreation and other departments depending on the situation.

City Council’s desire to change the city charter and create the Office of the Chief Public Safety Director comes as the city still struggles to manage its gun violence crisis. 

The last three years in the city have seen the highest homicide numbers since the 1990s. The last two years ended with the highest homicide numbers in Philly’s recorded history. There has also been a concerning trend continued in 2023 that’s seen both victims and perpetrators of the violence get younger.

“Right now, given the urgency of the situation, we need to do something differently on public safety,” Clarke said. “Violence is impacting everything we do here in Philadelphia. People don’t want to hear about the Charter, which was written in 1954. People want to hear, ‘What are you going to do today to stop the violence here in the City of Philadelphia?’”

Now, at least regarding a new Chief Public Safety Director, it’s in the people’s hands.

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