COUNCILMEMBER KENYATTA JOHNSON ANNOUNCES CONFIRMATION OF ADARA COMBS AS THE FIRST PHILADELPHIA VICTIM ADVOCATE

In Council News, Kenyatta Johnson, News by PHL Council

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The Philadelphia Office of the Victim Advocate will serve as an independent agency focused on the needs of crime victims and others affected by crime

PHILADELPHIA, PA. (January 31, 2022)— Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), founding chairman of Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, announced that City Council has confirmed Philadelphia lawyer Adara L. Combs as the first Philadelphia Victim Advocate. Mayor Jim Kenney transmitted his nomination of Combs for confirmation by Council this month.  

“I want to thank all of my Council colleagues, advocates, the families of victims of gun violence, and the voters of Philadelphia for supporting the creation of this office,” Johnson said.  “In the aftermath of the record gun violence we have had in Philadelphia, this office is needed to work on system wide issues affecting victims and co-victims in Philadelphia.” 

“The new Office of the Victim Advocate is long overdue in Philadelphia. Advocates have told me that the fragmented nature of victim services leads to a lack of consistency and timing of outreach and services provided,” Johnson continued. “I believe that we owe it to victims and co-victims to give them a voice within City government.   Such an important position calls for the right person with a unique blend of skills and experience. Adara is the right person.” 

The Office of the Philadelphia Victim Advocate will offer a hub for crime victims and co-victims, a term referring to family, neighbors, colleagues and others indirectly affected by crime. The office’s functions would include coordination, planning, and policy advocacy. 

The creation of the Office of the Philadelphia Victim Advocate was a result of hearings and roundtable discussions convened by victims and co-victims subcommittee of Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention on the needs of victims and co-victims. Based upon those proceedings, Councilmember Johnson introduced legislation to amend the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter to create a permanent, independent Office of the Victim Advocate. Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure in November 2020. 

“With Adara’s deep knowledge of the impact of crime on victims and their loved ones, the complexities of the criminal justice system, and her community ties as a native Philadelphian, I’m confident that she is the right person to lead this important new office,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “The creation of the Office of the Victim Advocate and Adara’s confirmation as the Victim Advocate for the Office is a step towards guaranteeing that crime victims in Philadelphia have the supports they need to regain a sense of normalcy.”   

Combs was the Supervisor of the Juvenile Division at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, a position she has held from November 2020 until January 21 of this year.  In her role, she supervised a staff of 45 attorneys, victim coordinators, paralegals, trial listing clerks, detectives, and administrative professionals.  Combs also directed the operations of the unit and managed high-level functions relevant to juvenile justice and reform. Throughout her several year career as a prosecutor she served in various divisions and prosecuted nearly every type of criminal case.  She has handled numerous cases ranging from narcotics and gun related offenses to sexual assaults, as either bench or jury trials.  

She is also the current president of The Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia, Inc. Established in 1950, The Barristers’ Association’s purpose is to address the professional needs and development of Black lawyers in Philadelphia through programs such as seminars, cultural events and publications. Combs has also been active in the National Black Prosecutors Association where she has served on the local, regional, and national board levels.  

She was born, raised, and still resides in Northwest Philadelphia.  

Combs has framed her career to give a voice to those who often go unheard, ensure that justice is done, and treat everyone with dignity and respect no matter what side of the courtroom they occupy. She finds purpose in being a voice for others and a source of care in a system that often feels hopeless.  

She graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls and next attended Franklin and Marshall College. Majoring in government and public policy, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree and began her career at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. There she first served as a Pre-Adjudicatory Juvenile Diversion Coordinator where she redirected children charged with minor offenses away from the court system to restorative justice options within the community. 

During her time in juvenile diversion, Combs learned firsthand that advocacy combined with creativity could change the lives of all she encountered. It was that mindset that would shape the trajectory of her career and her brand of advocacy. She soon enrolled into the evening division at the Beasley School of Law at Temple University, and pursued her legal education while simultaneously continuing her career at the District Attorney’s Office. Four years later, Combs received her Juris Doctorate degree along with other honors.  

She is a Leadership Philadelphia Keeper Alumni. She has been recognized by The Philadelphia Tribune as one of the “Most Influential African Americans”, and  has also been recently featured by the American Bar Association and the Legal Intelligencer.  

After having served as the voice for many families who were victimized, and tragically losing loved ones in her own family to violence, Combs knows firsthand that the pursuit of justice involves all of us and can only be won through collaborative leadership while working in and with our communities.   

In June 2017, Philadelphia City established the Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention. Chairman Johnson established a Subcommittee on Victims and Co-victims. The work of the Subcommittee culminated in a public investigative hearing in February 2020 that included testimony from government officials, providers of victim services, victim advocates, scholars, community members, and other stakeholders. 

One of the main takeaways from the February 2020 hearing was that Philadelphia has a broad array of government and government-funded agencies that serve victims and co-victims, but there is no single agency with a mandate to undertake coordination and planning for the provision of victim services and there is no independent entity charged with investigating complaints regarding victims’ services and evaluating the efficacy and efficiency of the system as a whole. 

Councilmember Johnson introduced the legislation to create the office in March 2020 and it was approved by the full City Council in June 2020. The legislation still had to face and yes-or-no vote by Philadelphia voters to make the office an official part of the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter. The ballot question was approved overwhelming by Philadelphia voters in November 2020.    

The Office of the Victim Advocate will have the following duties: 

  • Act as an advocate for crime victims and co-victims. Such advocacy may pertain not only to broader issues of law, policy and practice but also to individual judicial, administrative and investigative matters, as necessary; 
  • Lead coordination and planning among governmental and nongovernmental entities that serve or otherwise interact with crime victims and co-victims;
  • Provide training and technical assistance to enhance the work of governmental and non-governmental entities that serve or otherwise interact with crime victims and co-victims;
  • Ensure that crime victims are notified of their rights and that such rights are vindicated;
  • Serve as a liaison between the victim and co-victim community and City government;
  • Educate the public regarding issues affecting crime victims and co-victims;
  •     Review relevant annual audits by the City Controller, and as it deems necessary, request that the Controller audit relevant contracts;
  •     Investigate complaints regarding the interactions with victims and co-victims by government and government-funded agencies;
  •     Examine issues of general importance to crime victims and co-victims and publish findings and recommendations;
  •    And formulate and advocate for policy recommendations within City government. 

Mayor Kenney nominated Combs for the position on January 20 and Council confirmed Combs’s nomination during its January 27 stated meeting. 

The Victim Advocate serves a six-year term, and may be removed by the Mayor prior to the expiration of a term only for cause. Before the Victim Advocate is removed, the Victim Advocate must be provided with a written statement of the reasons for removal and given the opportunity for a hearing before the Mayor. 

The Victim Advocate will be responsible for hiring the new employees for the office and forming an advisory board composed of community representatives, practitioners, experts, and other stakeholders.    

The Office of the Victim Advocate in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Office of Victim Advocate are two separate offices 

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Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, a former Pennsylvania State Representative, represents the Second  Council District which includes parts of Center City, South Philadelphia, and Southwest Philadelphia. He is also chairman of  City Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention. 

 

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