Philly City Council introduces what would be the city’s first office to oversee gun violence response
Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilmember Curtis Jones look to create the first office of Chief Public Safety Director.
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Philadelphia might be following in the footsteps of Chicago, Newark and Columbus by creating a cabinet level position and office to oversee public safety and coordinate the city’s response as part of the city’s ongoing fight to reduce crime and violence.
City Council introduced legislation on Thursday, Feb. 16 to establish a new Office of the Chief Public Safety Director for Philadelphia, co-sponsored by Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District), Majority Leader Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District), and Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District).
“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.”
Modeled after positions created in Chicago, Newark, and Columbus, the person would oversee the police, fire, prisons, and emergency services departments in Philadelphia.
They would manage the budget, operations, and development of the city’s public safety response from a number of agencies and departments. It would also require changing the city charter to create the director position that would pay $265,000 per year.
They would be among the top four administrative positions in city government, with the mayor, managing director, and finance director. The legislation must be approved by two-thirds of Council, and then by voters in May Primary.
The Director would be appointed by the Mayor, following advice and consent of a majority of City Council.
The Chief Public Safety Director “shall be a law enforcement professional and have at least five years’ experience as the head of a municipal or state government law enforcement agency,” according to the resolution introduced.
Along with the legislation was a resolution that details how Chicago, Newark, and Columbus have created similar public safety directors in order to create more collaboration between city agencies.
Councilman Jones said the proposal was born out from touring other police agencies in the area to find out what is being done correctly.
“What we discovered is we have much of what they have, but what we need is the straw that stirs the drink to let it come together,” Jones said.
Clarke called it a collaborative effort between council members coming together for a solution.
“We found throughout our travels going to municipalities across the region that it was clear that the ability to have a collaborative effort, most importantly, someone was ultimately responsible for pulling those people together,” he said.
“We went to Trenton. The presentation that was given to us was by the public safety director. He talked about fire. He talked about corrections,” Clarke added. “He talked about prison. He talked about the fact of having recreation agencies that actually figured out a way to help people get jobs.”
West Philly Councilmember Jamie Gauthier said Thursday that the addition of the office would allow the city government to oversee gun violence the way it dealt with COVID-19.
“We should be treating gun violence in our neighborhoods in the way that we’re treating COVID, in the sense that we’re mobilizing all the resources we have,” she said. “If we’re only thinking about gun violence as a police enforcement issue, we are losing the ability to bring so many more resources to the issue.”
Should the office be created, it would be up to the incoming Mayor to appoint a director. The city’s Mayoral race has been underway and the winner would take office in January as Kenney is term-limited.
The crowded race of 10 candidates includes several former City Councilmembers including Allan Domb, Derek Green, Cherelle Parker, Helen Gym, and former City Controller Rebecca Ryhnhart.
“I think that it’s time for us to do some things differently,” Clarke said. “I think it’s clear that having a person who would report directly to the mayor... would show that this is one the most significant and important issues in the city of Philadelphia.”