Rochelle Bilal is a lifelong resident of Philadelphia, having grown up on Lawrence and Cumberland streets in the northern part of the city. The teachings and example set at home kept her on the right path, eventually making her the first African American woman elected and re-elected sheriff in the 181-year history of the office.
Bilal ran as a Democrat for her second term as Philadelphia’s sheriff and was successfully re-elected in the general elections, facing off against Republican Mark Lavelle.
The Sheriff’s Office, with a budget of $26 million, oversees courthouse security and prisoner transport. Additionally, it manages the orderly sales of seized and delinquent properties.
Bilal’s first term began in 2020 when she took the oath for a four-year tenure to lead the Sheriff’s Office for the city and county of Philadelphia, becoming the first elected woman in the department’s history.
Over four years, she supervised the recovery of a record number of firearms from domestic abusers, conducted community food drives, and made significant contributions for the city. However, the office was not without its share of controversies.
Bilal is an advocate for criminal justice reform and encourages community involvement and outreach in her office. As sheriff, she also implemented policies and procedures to enhance efficiency and engagement among the department’s 400-plus employees.
Bilal grew up with her mother and six siblings
Bilal grew up with her mother, a part-time cook, and her six siblings, as her father left the family before she was born. They, like the neighborhood, struggled to overcome poverty and the tense relationship between the police department and the color community.
The strained relationship changed when the Guardian Civic League appeared, a community oversight organization of law enforcement consisting of over 2,500 active and retired Philadelphia police officers.
Although initially hesitant, Bilal left her job at the post office and joined this institute after two of her friends did. This marked the beginning of her 27-year tenure in the force, where, in addition to gaining experience, she developed a reputation for confronting a culture of discrimination.
Bilal served in units focusing on sexual crimes and drug trafficking, including the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), a joint task force with the FBI and DEA.
She spent time on patrol and taught recruits at the Philadelphia Police Training Center, where she launched the Steer Straight initiative, helping new police officers identify and avoid situations that could pose potential risks to their future law enforcement careers.
Bilal’s experience also includes her time as the Director of Public Safety in Colwyn Borough, where she led the police and fire departments while developing a community outreach program for the municipality’s security department. A new four-year term awaits her.