Attend the big celebration

Of the 2024 Integrity Icons

RSVP today to attend the 2024 Integrity Icon Philly celebration Thursday, May 23 at the Fitler Club Ballroom at 1 South 24th Street. Doors open at 6pm.


For its fourth year, The Philadelphia Citizen and Accountability Lab will be naming five high-integrity city workers as this year’s Integrity Icons. Join us to celebrate with family, friends, and colleagues. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. For questions, please contact [email protected].



Meet our 2024 Integrity Icon Philadelphia Winners

2024 Integrity Icon: Adara Combs

The first-ever director of Philly’s Office of Victim Advocate has parlayed a decade in the DA’s office to bring dignity and much-needed help to victims and their communities

2024 Integrity Icon: Adara Combs

The first-ever director of Philly’s Office of Victim Advocate has parlayed a decade in the DA’s office to bring dignity and much-needed help to victims and their communities

Working at the District Attorney’s Office for 11 years will teach you a lot about the resources that exist — and don’t — for victims of gun violence in Philadelphia. Adara Combs can speak to the personal side of crime as well. “The prosecution is just one chapter in the victim or co-victim’s story,” Combs says. “The journey through healing from being a victim of crime is honestly a lifelong journey from the moment it happens until forever.”

On the day she resigned from the DA in January 2022, to accept a position as the City’s first-ever executive director of the Office of Victim Advocate, Combs got a phone call letting her know that her cousin had been shot and killed in Frankford. It wasn’t the first time she endured a tragic encounter with crime via a family member. When Adara was a child, her mother was robbed at gunpoint around the corner from their home. “I grew up in Philadelphia,” says Combs, who was raised in the Mount Airy and West Oak Lane neighborhoods. “Unfortunately, statistically, that means you are more likely than not to be touched by crime and violence.”

Possessing a deep well of both professional and personal experiences has benefitted Combs in her leadership of an upstart government office. Only two years after Combs’ confirmation by City Council, Philadelphia’s Office of the Victim Advocate has already carved out a role as a connector and leader in the push to improve victim services at a time when we more clearly understand the links between victimization and perpetration of crime.

“The prosecution is just one chapter in the victim or co-victim’s story. The journey through healing from being a victim of crime is honestly a lifelong journey from the moment it happens until forever.” — Adara Combs

In this light, the patchwork of programs and organizations which provide services to victims across the city is not only about those victimized — but about public safety writ large. “I think I come to this from a very unique lens in the sense that I understand that intersectionality,” says Combs.

For her accessibility and innovation, her holistic approach to justice that makes victims feel seen and cared for, Combs is one of The Citizen’s 2024 Integrity Icons, awarded to city workers who go above and beyond their job descriptions to serve city residents. Along with the other four Icons, Combs will be honored at a party at Fitler Club on May 23. See the other winners here.


What is an Integrity Icon?

In partnership with DC-based Accountability Lab, The Citizen is the only American city to run an Integrity Icon program. The goal: To name and fame the city workers going above and beyond to make a positive impact in Philadelphia.

This past spring, the public nominated dozens of excellent city workers for the award, using the following criteria: They are a high-integrity public service employee who is respectful and caring; know their work makes a difference to people’s lives; act in a trustworthy and transparent way to solve problems the best they can; treat everyone equally, without regard to politics or influence; and go above and beyond to provide good service to Philadelphians.

A panel of high-integrity judges reviewed the candidates, and selected this year’s honorees. The 2024 winners join 15 other Integrity Icons named by The Citizen since 2021. Read about the others here.

Big picture ideas

For victims and loved ones, navigating the decentralized landscape of services can be confusing, especially since it often happens while they’re grieving. There are dozens of nonprofits dedicated to victim services throughout the city that provide different services, from grief counseling to assistance with benefits. There’s also the Victim Services Unit inside the DA, which has a team of professionals who provide support throughout the prosecution.

With so many touchpoints, involving so many public and private organizations, the needs of victims often go unfulfilled. Engagements are often different, involving different agencies. Though the Office of Victim Advocate is not a direct service provider, they work as a liaison for victims and their families so that they don’t slip through the cracks.

“Maybe the District Attorney’s office isn’t necessarily hearing their needs quite clearly, or, you know, they need advocacy within the police department when they’re having a communication breakdown with a detective,” says Combs. “We definitely do that.”

The main function of the office, however, is working on bigger picture ideas. In Philadelphia, as is true across the country, most funding for victim services comes through federal and state grants, primarily distributed from the 1984 Victims of Crime Act. While that system has created a sprawling network for victim services, it’s resulted in gaps in the quality and oversight on a local level. Combs is the first City employee to work exclusively on the citywide landscape of this often-ignored sector of the criminal justice system.

That’s how Combs came up with the idea to launch a crime-scene cleanup pilot, which began earlier this year in the 25th Police District with plans to eventually expand citywide.

The current protocols for cleaning up a crime scene require residents to put in a request to the police department for a washdown, which is performed by the fire department. The work is rarely done quickly, and residents on blocks where shootings occurred have long complained about the trauma of living with blood-stained sidewalks, as a recent report by the Anti-Violence Partnership covered in detail. “That wasn’t necessarily dignified for the community, but most importantly, it wasn’t sanitary,” says Combs.

Combs helped bring together the Office of Public Safety and the PPD to create the pilot, which relies on an outside contractor to provide the cleaning. It is the kind of thing that might never have happened prior to Combs and the creation of the office, which was approved by voters through a ballot measure in 2020. “My office is able to handle those types of things that are more related to how we as a city respond to the needs of victims and co-victims, because we’re not tethered to the prosecution of a case,” Combs says.

With a broad range of experience, Combs is quickly working to fill those gaps. “She’s thoughtful and methodical in her approach and she has built an office where you can really see City dollars at work,” says Combs’ deputy director Heather Arias. Despite their scope, the independent agency only has a staff of four at present. “Adara embodies qualities which have led her to be an incredible, first-appointed victim advocate for our city. She is truly a fearless leader..”

“She has worked at every level of the criminal justice system and knows how to navigate trauma and secondary trauma. She makes people feel seen.” —  Deborah Watson Stokes, DA’s senior advisor on professional development

An unsung heroine

When Jim Kenney nominated Combs for the newly minted position, it didn’t surprise many people in the legal community, where Combs is a well-known commodity. As the president of the Barrister’s Association of Philadelphia, one of the oldest organizations in the country for Black lawyers, Combs has a reputation for her accessibility and philanthropic spirit. “She has worked at every level of the criminal justice system and knows how to navigate trauma and secondary trauma,” says Deborah Watson Stokes, the senior advisor on professional development to the District Attorney. “She makes people feel seen.”

Working for two very different DAs in Seth Williams and Larry Krasner taught Combs how to look at victims and prosecution from many angles. While she always set out to be a prosecutor, she views the criminal justice system holistically — and thus, how to approach victim services through the lens of the city and its communities, not strictly from either side of the bench. “I’ve also had family members who have been through the incarceration system,” Combs says. “I understand that both sides [of the justice system] need ample support.”


Adara Combs, Philadelphia Victim Advocate. Photo by Creative Outfit.

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