SIDNEY — What a difference 365 days can make.
For Sgt. Karla Pleiman and Sgt. Joel Howell, both deputies with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, their daily work routines have changed 180 degrees since last year.
Howell and Pleiman joined Sheriff John Lenhart during his weekly interview.
“Working second shift we had numerous calls,” said Howell of his work a year ago. “We’d have domestics and family disputes. We were answering 10 to 15 calls a shift.”
The residents would welcome the deputies into their homes, said Howell.
Today, because of the coronavirus (COVID-19), all that has changed.
“Today, we try to meet them outside their homes,” said Howell. “We do a lot of the non emergency calls over the phone now.
“We don’t enter the buildings when we respond to a call,” he said. “Now we’re only getting two to three calls a night. But we’re still out there patrolling the county.”
Because of the stay-at-home order, the department is seeing more domestic violence and unruly juvenile calls, he said.
The process of arresting someone has also changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If it involves a violent crime, we contact our supervisor deputy to make the call on whether or not to incarcerate the person,” said Howell.
“The arrest may happen,” said Lenhart. “But they’ll receive a summons to court instead. Just yesterday, we had a man and a women which involved a physical confrontation. We put him in jail right away.”
All deputies, they said, respond to residences wearing an N95 mask.
“When we deal with the general public, we wear a N95 mask and eye protection,” said Howell. “I sometimes get a weird look from the person. I tell them I’m wearing the mask for our protection and for their protection and that nothing is wrong. I do get a lot of questions about whether I’m required to wear the mask.”
“When dealing with the general public, we want to protect ourselves and one another,” said Lenhart. “Some say this is an overreaction of the government. We’re protecting ourselves and the citizens we’re interacting with.”
Howell said he and the other deputies have been wearing masks for approximately three weeks.
“It seems like it’s a lot longer than it actually has been,” he said.
Hitting the road every night, Howell said there’s a lot less traffic on the road. That translates into traffic enforcement being down also.
‘it’s business as usual…but it’s not usual,” said Howell. “I’d like to thank the general public for their cooperation. I know it’s difficult to stay in the house and shelter in place. We’re going to get through this quicker if everyone helps.”
For Pleiman, the operation of the jail is almost the same as it was last year.
“Last year we had 163 inmates for our daily population,” said Pleiman. “We have 62 inmates this year.
“Last year, our intake was much greater. We would accept anyone,” she said. “This year, we have to get the approval of a supervisor based on the crime — is it violent or some other circumstance?”
The first contact with a prisoner involves taking the person’s temperature, she said.
“They are asked a series of questions. Do The have a cough? Do they have a shortness of breath? Have they traveled outside Ohio,” she explained.
“They are kept in the booking area for 14 days of precautionary isolation,” she said. “The person is then cleared by the medical staff to be placed in the general population.”
The inmates are served three meals a day. The meals are brought to the individual cell blocks and they take their food to tables in the area.
“We don’t want movement outside the cell block,” said Pleiman.
While visitation has been suspended, the inmates still have access to phone calls and video chats with their families. Mental health counseling along with drug and alcohol counseling are still available via electronic technology. There is also a religious program for those inmates who are interested in the studies.
Four of the inmates, said Pleiman, have been sentenced to state prison. However, the reception area at the Orient prison is closed so no new prisoners are being processed for placement in one of the state prisons.
“Orient is not taking anyone sentenced to prison because of COVID-19,” said Pleiman. “They are limiting access to all jails in Ohio.”
Prisons in Marion, Franklin and Orient have announced one in four prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19, said Lenhart.
“They’re trying to get it cleaned up as best they can before taking no one from a county lockup,” said Lenhart.
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office established a COVID-19 protocol when interacting with the inmates. The sheriff’s office personnel, Dr. Fred Hausmann, the Sidney-Shelby County Health department, Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and guidelines provided by the CDC were all involved with establishing the protocol.
All inmates an staff must wear masks. Each person was taught how to properly wear the protective masks. Everyone was taught proper hygiene and how to keep everything as clean as possible.
“The prisoners have embraced wearing the masks,” said Pleiman. “They do not have to wear them if they are in their cells. They have their own bed in the cell and their not sharing the cell with another prisoner.”
The jail’s vendors, said Pleiman, have provided incentives to be given to the inmates for good behavior. None of the incentives cost the jail or sheriff’s office as the items were all donated.
“The vendors have stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic to help the inmates deal with the change in culture,” said Pleiman.
On a weekly basis, the medical staff checks all the inmates to make sure they are all OK.
The mental health of the staff and inmates is important especially in the face of the pandemic, said Lenhart.
“It’s difficult for the employees and inmates to deal with this. Their families are at home and they worry about them. Everyone wearing the N95 masks went over better than I thought it would,” said Lenhart.
Lenhart said he has talked with other sheriffs and they have two or three cases of COVID-19 at their jails.
“I’m thankful we have a good staff and prisoner cooperation with the new protocol we put in place to make sure everyone is safe,” said Pleiman.
Lenhart said there are 15 occupants of the STAR House.
“A couple had gotten laid off and they went out and found new jobs,” said Lenhart. “I’m proud of that.”
The STAR House clients also observe the 6 foot safe distance protocol. They all have regular jobs and come back to the STAR House when their shift is over.
“One person graduated last week,” he said “I think that’s been three or four who have graduated.”
And since spring is here, Lenhart is ready for the inmates to start planting the jail’s garden.
“The magic date is May 10,” said Lenhart. “I have all the seeds bought. One of the inmates told me to make sure he knows when we put stuff out because he wants to be there. He wants to learn how to plant a garden.”
Lenhart said last week the office processed 90 background checks for conceal/carry licenses. Each person is required to do a self checkout via email. They go to the sheriff’s office and take their own fingerprints in the lobby. They pay for the background check with a credit card and the finalized report is then sent to them.
He also advised people from not buying protective masks online unless they know the person or a reliable company selling them.
The Sidney Daily News conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.