Voters overwhelmingly approve victim advocate

Philadelphia City Council member Kenyatta Johnson speaks at a Peace Not Guns rally at Wharton Square Park in July. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

While many eyes were on the battle between presidential candidates, local officials are celebrating a victory in the form of an approved special question on the city’s ballot. 

Voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of the Office of the Victim Advocate, which will work out of City Hall and work for the rights of crime victims in the city.

The new department would be headed by a mayor-appointed director known as the “Victim Advocate,” with the advice and consent of City Council.

According to the ballot question, duties will include: 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; and providing training and support to agencies that interact with crime victims.

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the 2nd District in South and Southwest Philadelphia, was the prime sponsor of the legislation to create the office.

“I want to thank all Philadelphians for voting overwhelmingly to approve Ballot Question #2, which will create a new Office of Victim Advocate in Philadelphia,” Johnson said. “Thank you for supporting the mothers, fathers and families who have lost loved ones to gun violence in recent years by approving the Office. I put this question on the ballot for them.”

Johnson has been vocal against gun violence, creating the “Peace Not Guns” initiative in response to a surge in deadly shootings in Philadelphia, including Point Breeze, where he grew up. He is also chairman of City Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention and vice chair of Council’s Public Safety Committee. Johnson thanked the many organizations and political leaders that helped push the legislation along. The question was approved by more than 86 percent of voters, gaining more than half a million affirmative votes. 

“Thank you to the many city leaders who supported passage of Ballot Question #2: Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight, Founder/National Executive Director of Mothers In Charge Inc.; Aleida Garcia, co-founder, National Homicide Justice Alliance; Chantay Love, Program Director of Every Murder is Real Healing Center; Stanley Crawford, leader of Black Male Community Council of Philadelphia; Felicia Pendleton, Founder, Mothers United By Angels; Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner; all members of Philadelphia City Council; and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney,” Johnson said.

Through Nov. 5, homicides in Philadelphia were up 38 percent from last year, as 419 people were killed so far in 2020. The city’s homicide rate is the highest in decades.

The new Philadelphia Office of Victim Advocate will operate separately from the Pennsylvania Victim Advocate Office, which was established in 1995. It works to provide victims of crime with notifications, support and advocacy services. According to the state’s website, coordinators on staff work with local advocates at community-based victim service programs, as well as with advocates in county district attorney offices, to ensure that all victims of crime who have requested post-sentencing services receive the compassionate and individual attention that they require.

City officials are excited to bring a similar effort to the local level. 

“I will now work with the Kenney administration to fund the office, find it a home, select the new Victim Advocate, and assemble an advisory board of citizens to help guide the work of the Victim Advocate,” Johnson said. “Our hope is the new office will be up and running by the middle of 2021.”