SIDNEY — It’s business as usual for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. Or at least the new normal since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.

Several things have changed at the office, said Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart during his weekly interview.

“We’ve made changes for background checks,” said Lenhart. “We thought about shutting down the doors (of doing the checks) but people absolutely need to have them done.”

Potential employees working with special need children and adults, along with those working with senior citizens, must have a background check done.

So Lenhart said, for the time being, fingerprints will not be required for a background check. Once the pandemic has been declared over, the people will have to go to the sheriff’s office for fingerprints to be added to their file.

“If an individual is being hired by a company, the HR department needs to send an email to the sheriff’s office requesting a background check. The HR department needs to provide the person’s name, birth date and Social Security number and the office will be able to run a background check on them.

“We’ll email them back with the results,” said Lenhart. “Everything in Ohio has been computerized from 1989 on. So anything after that date is in the computer.”

Persons seeking a Conceal/Carry License should also go through the same procedure, said Lenhart.

Lenhart said they are trying to keep egress and ingress to the sheriff’s office to a minimum to prevent exposure to the virus.

“If you have a incident, such as a mailbox being struck, we’re asking you to call the office and do the report over the phone,” he said. “If it’s a serious report, the deputies will respond to the scene.”

And in some incidents, the appearance of the deputy may be a little difference.

“All the deputies have been assigned gear such as goggles, N95 mask and gown/ If they have to go inside a residence — or can’t use the 6 foot rule — then they’ll don this gear.”

Lenhart said the mask the deputies will be wearing is the same mask that he uses when farming and cleaning out the grain bin.

“I’d like to complement the elected officials and department heads who worked to get our plan together,” said Lenhart, who said the judges and prosecutor also played a role in the plan.

To get the jail population reduced, Lenhart said 44 inmates who were convicted on misdemeanor offences, are being released.

“My mission is to get the population down so there’s one person in each cell,” said Lenhart. “That makes it manageable for their health and that of our officers,” he said. “This way, if we get a violent offender, we’ll be able to separate them from the jail population. We’d keep them separate for 14 days before we put them in the general population.”

At this time, there is no inmate visitation being held at the jail. Family members can use Skype for a visit, along with talking on the phone.

“The front office is open if someone needs to bring money in for the inmate,” he said.

Lenhart said he’s also taking precautions with the office’s employees.

“I have one employee who just returned from a cruise,” said Lenhart. “I’m not allowing the person to come to work for 14 days because they had contact with people on the cruise.”

Lenhart said during his 51-plus law enforcement career, he’s never seen elected officials and other community members work together like they have during the pandemic. The only other time that comes close, he said, was the blizzard of 1978.

The animal shelter, he said, is closed to prospective owners.

“We want to prevent people from going in,” he said. “Our workers and inmates are in there each day working. We will take in strays and we encourage owners to call the shelter to see if their animal has been found.”

He said if the animal has been found, it will be brought outside the building to its owners.

Animal photos will also be posted on the shelter’s Facebook page.

“If there’s something a citizen needs or wants, the sheriff’s office is not out of business,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to help them.

“We’re going to lead. We’re going to work/ We’re going to be out there to serve,” said Lenhart.

Lenhart said some of the court proceedings at the Shelby County Courthouse are being limited. Some hearings are being postponed. Wedding licenses and retraining orders can still be obtained at the courthouse.

“Don’t bring purses to the courthouse as the officers have to search them,” said Lenhart. “Judges are also asking only the person involved in a case come to the courthouse. At this time, judges don’t want family members, supporters or bystanders to be in the courthouse.”

Lenhart said he talks daily with the Auglaize and Mercer counties sheriffs to see what is happening in their counties. And to share ideas of what can be done to keep people safe.

“This is new territory we’re walking in,” said Lenhart.

By Melanie Speicheer

[email protected]

The Sidney Daily News conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.