New leader seeks to reform Philly DA’s Victim Services Unit

Keziah Cameron was appointed director of the office of Victim Services in November. (Abdul R. Sulayman/Philadelphia Tribune)

Keziah Cameron was appointed director of the office of Victim Services in November. (Abdul R. Sulayman/Philadelphia Tribune)

This article originally appeared on The Philadelphia Tribune.

Keziah Cameron has a big job ahead of her this year.

The 39-year old North Philadelphia native has been tasked with reforming the Victim Services Unit of Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity take on this position especially at this particular time,” she said. “I feel like we are in a space where we really have the opportunity to grow Victim Services — not only for victims and witnesses that are in the system, but victims and witnesses in the community.”

District Attorney Larry Krasner named Cameron, who has worked as a victim services coordinator for 17 years, the new director of the unit in November.

Cameron fills a role formerly held by Movita Johnson-Harrell, who resigned about a year ago to run in a special election to be the state representative for the 190th state House District. Johnson-Harrell won the election, but resigned in December after Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced various charges against her for the alleged theft of more than $500,000 from a charity she ran.

Leaders of some Philadelphia victim agencies are optimistic about Cameron’s appointment.

“I’m excited about what that means for streamlining the horrific experiences of victims in Philadelphia,” said Monique Howard, the director of the WOAR Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence.

She says more marketing and awareness is needed so people are aware of the Victim Services Unit’s role.

“Even though there are several victim service organizations that are reaching (people), many people don’t know how that links to the DA’s office and how the DA’s office supports the work that we do and we support the work that the DA’s office does around victimization,” Howard said.

Chantay Love, director of the nonprofit Every Murder is Real, hopes that Cameron’s appointment will lead to stronger collaborations between the DA’s office and grassroots organizations that work with victims.

“As the district attorney focuses on crime reform and adjustments, I’m hoping that there is a collaborative spirit that happens for victims,” she said.

“I’m always seeking to have equity at the table and for crime reform, victims having a voice on what happens to victims and how victims are serviced and how it impacts law and policy. For us, true reform requires all of us at the table.”

Cameron believes she is uniquely positioned to lead Victim Services and its 32 staff members.

She joined the unit as a victim services coordinator after she graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Her tenure with the unit has given her “insight as to some the ways that we could have improved over the years and can improve now,” she said.

“I also have experienced a lot of trauma and victimization that is in the community and know that that needs to be addressed as well and I’m in a space to be able to do that.”

Cameron has established updated protocols that support the mission of the office, developed new procedures to meet the needs of crime victims, and managed federal and state grant compliance for victim services and contracted community-based agencies.

Cameron said one of the more challenging aspects of her new role is overcoming public perception of the Victim Services Unit, and gaining the trust of Philadelphians and letting them know how the unit can help them navigate the criminal justice system.

“It is a very difficult and confusing process and it moves very quickly and you’re talking about people who have probably never come in contact with the system in this way before,” she said.

So the unit is working on “increasing our outreach and doing it earlier so that you know right away as soon as something is happening in your case …, who you need to call and where to go get all of your questions answered.”

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