– By Josh Durso
Seneca County Sheriff Tim Luce says the start of the coronavirus pandemic proved to be tricky, as his department worked around a shortage of personal protective equipment, and quickly evolving state regulations.
However, several weeks into the pandemic, the process is moving forward. He released his monthly recap on Monday for the month of April.
“I am very proud of the men and women who work for the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office. They have really stepped up during the last three months,” Sheriff Luce said prior to the report’s release. “These people work very hard and are dedicated to the people of this county.”
Those early days of working through the pandemic were challenging. A critical shortage of PPE was among the challenges, but even basic equipment to take temperatures are in short supply.
“In the beginning the biggest challenge was getting the supplies needed to continue serving the public. At first we did not have enough masks. We also only had one thermometer,” Sheriff Luce said. “We have ordered [thermometers] from a couple different suppliers but have, to this day, not received any.”
He says 2020 has been a difficult year overall. One that his office won’t soon forget. “We had an officer complete suicide, then an inmate,” he recounted. “Then the pandemic started. The men and women of the Sheriff’s office are very strong and professional. They forged through, made adjustments, and are doing a great job.”
He says a series of steps were taken to ensure the safety of everyone associated with the department, as well as the inmates served as the Seneca County Correctional Facility.
“We stopped all visitations for inmates. In doing that, we gave them some free use of the phone and made arrangements for eligible inmates to utilize digital visitation,” Sheriff Luce said. He says nearly all medical and mental health services are being provided for via Telehealth.
“Daily command staff meetings were held to discuss the state mandates and develop best practices for our agency to keep our staff and the public safe,” Luce said. He noted that recently command staff meetings were reduced to once a week. “We had to author a new policy for pandemics,” he continued. “All Officers were given masks in the jail and are mandated to wear them when in contact with any inmates. The Road Officers are also mandated to wear masks when in contact with the public.”
Sheriff Luce says anyone who enters the jail must have their temperature taken as a precaution. He said developing sensible policies for if officers became ill was a priority. Those guidelines are set in coordination with New York State Department of Health.
He says non-essential staff was furloughed, or is working from home at this time. Special training was also established for COVID-19.
Speaking to the population of the jail, Luce says the pandemic hasn’t had a big impact on it. “Since the bail reform and discovery, our jail population has gone down, but is holding at a stable number right now,” he said. “I am curious as to what is going to happen when the courts start operating on a regular basis. We have received very few sentenced inmates since this started. I believe the population in the jail will rise then.”
Right now, courts are being conducted virtually. There’s been no signal for when they might return to normal operation.
Sheriff Luce said in his April report that there were 1,393 calls for service, 10 arrests, seven fraud cases, and three new drug cases. There were an average of 40 inmates at the Seneca County Correctional Facility, accounting for more than $34,000 made in boarding.
As for notable cases during the month, he outlined the following:
– On April 4th, deputies apprehended a suspect who fled a hit and run car accident in the Town of Romulus. The suspect was subsequently charged with driving while intoxicated.
– On April 12th, deputies responded to a loud explosion heard in the town of Fayette. Three individuals were arrested.
– On April 24th, deputies responded to a domestic incident in progress. A 1-year-old child was involved in it. The suspect was apprehended and no one was injured.
– On April 27th, the Sheriff’s Office opened the Pistol Permit Office for amendments by mail only.
– On April 29th, deputies investigated an incident of vandalism at the South Seneca High School campus in Ovid. Three individuals were charged, and the motive of the incident was said to be a hate crime.