Sheriff’s office addresses impact of COVID-19 on office

By Siesta Sand staff

The Siesta Sand recently conducted a Q&A with the Sheriff’s office on the impact of the COVID-19 had on their office and the community. Here is the transcript of that conversation.

Q: How has the COVID-19 situation impacted the day-to-day operations of the Sheriff’s office?

By all accounts, we are still operating business as usual. Our Health & Safety team has worked hard behind the scenes to ensure personnel have access to the proper safety equipment in all locations, including on the road in a Patrol capacity and behind the walls of our Correctional Facility, which is where the greatest impact has been. By way of background, here are a few highlights of the changes that have taken place at our facility. Our efforts date back to early March:

  • Sanitizer placed in additional locations within the facility and at all entrances and exits. All work stations equipped with Sani-wipes and hand sanitizer. New signage installed outside pre-intake door in sally port explaining what to do if an arrestee is exhibiting signs of COVID-19. This location has surgical masks to place over the arrestee’s nose and mouth if exhibiting signs of virus.
  • At the start of each shift, a trustee cleaning detail cleans common area surfaces within the facility (door knobs, buttons, faucets). All employees responsible for wiping down work stations and nearby common areas.
  • All pods and control rooms equipped with Isolation Kits (PPE).
  • Notification email sent to all local arresting agencies outlining new intake screening procedures in which arrestees remain in patrol vehicle where nursing staff conduct assessments. 
  • Inventoried all PPE, sanitizer, soap, toiletries, and masks. All items in sufficient amounts, additional items ordered and/or requested.
  • All facility programs and school suspended through May 4, 2020.
  • All punitive sentences suspended.
  • Baker Acts evaluated by Coastal personnel remotely.
  • Sheriff’s Offender Work Program suspended indefinitely.
  • Shift briefings suspended.
  • School essay assignments distributed to inmates via tablets.
  • All attorney and court ordered psychiatrist visits held in pod attorney visit rooms separated by glass, or via video visitation.
  • CDC informational videos shown in all housing locations daily.
  • Onsite visitation suspended effective March 21st.
  • Visit from Sarasota County Health Department officials to inspect facility.

Q. Has there been any reduction in workforce? 

As of today, we have had 34 work-related exposures and currently only one employee still out due to an exposure. We have also had 10 employees out due to travel. Fourteen employees have been tested for COVID19 and all 14 were negative. We currently have only 10 employees working from home, out of more than 1,000. We are adequately staffed across the board.

Q. Has there been any change in the focus of the Sheriff’s office?

Since the initial outbreak, the sheriff’s office has used an “education before enforcement” approach which does not stray far from our traditional methods in rightful policing. As the governor continues to issue orders which can be enforced at the local level, we are treating each citizen contact on a case-by-case basis and doing our best to educate before we must enforce. To date, no citations have been issued or arrests made for folks not social distancing. Again, by all accounts, it is business as usual for us.

Q. What have you noticed during the stay at home order? Are people adhering to the order?

We have had an overwhelming amount of self-compliance with the order. For the most part, citizens are self-policing and staying indoors, while most non-essential businesses have also followed orders and voluntarily shut down.

Q. How is the Sheriff’s office enforcing the order?

We are ambassadors for the community and our job is to go out and educate people and the businesses. This is a smart community and we don’t need to over regulate the community. The community is going to do what it needs to do. We don’t need to smother the community.

Q. How is the sheriff’s office practicing social distancing when enforcing the law? 

For deputies working in a Patrol capacity, as mentioned above, they are equipped with PPE gear and able to wear their own personal cloth face covering if they choose to. They are also communicating with residents during calls for service to find out if the resident/caller is exhibiting symptoms or has been exposed.

Q. With the Sarasota schools closed has there been an increase of students coming to the island and beaches during the stay at home order?

As mentioned above, people are self-policing themselves. We have not had a major issue on the public beaches however, we have received intermittent calls about social gatherings on private beaches; mostly from citizens who we have been communicating with for years related to the same specific properties on Siesta Key.

Q. Has there been any criminal activity on Siesta Key related to people trying to take advantage of COVID-19 situation? (e.g. fraud schemes; theft at closed businesses).

We have not looked at Siesta Key specifically, but we are just now finishing our total crime stats for unincorporated Sarasota County for the month of March. Once those are complete, I will be happy to send them over to you. Likewise, the crime stats for April are probably worth looking at since that is when the stay-at-home order went into effect. Those should be ready by mid-May. I can tell you anecdotally that there has been nearly a 40% reduction in arrests. Nearly 45% of all detainees are being released on their own recognizance also known as “ROR” or on supervised released, also known as “SPR.” This number is a significant increase from the same time last year when the average was 21%. 

Q. Any words of advice to the residents?

Keep doing what you are doing. Sarasota County is a great place to live and we are lucky to have a great community who knows what it is doing. The longer we stick this out together and abide by the directives we are given, the sooner we will be able to go back to life as usual.