LEHIGH COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
On Jan. 4, 2016, Joseph N. Hanna took the oath of office as Lehigh County Sheriff, following Sheriff Ronald Rossi who had held the office for 24 years and chose not to run for a seventh term.
Hanna, of Lower Macungie Township, was elected to a 4-year term and immediately surrounded himself with an experienced team of professionals committed to serving the residents and visitors to Lehigh County.
In addition to two chief deputies – Chief Deputy Troy Evans and Chief Deputy David A. Faust, the sheriff’s office is comprised of one captain, two lieutenants, six sergeants, 63 full-time deputies, 21 part-time deputies, 19 part-time security officers and nine full-time and four part-time administrative staff.
In addition to English, three staff members are fluent in Arabic and many are fluent in Spanish.
The Lehigh County Sheriff’s office provides the safety and security of the county’s courtrooms, judges, government buildings, jurors and visitors within the government buildings.
In addition, sheriffs serve both criminal and civil warrants, with 2,012 criminal warrants served or cleared in 2017 and 11,039 civil warrants served in 2017.
Prisoner transport is another task of the sheriff’s office, with deputies transporting 10,419 inmates to and from court. With 10 judges and a rigorous court schedule, coordination is critical.
“Our responsibility is to have the defendants ready for the judge,” Hanna said. He said in the past five years, 1.3 million miles have been spent by the sheriff’s department transporting adults and children.
Sheriff sales are held monthly to collect debts on both real and personal property, another responsibility of the office. In 2017, 738 properties were scheduled for sheriff sale.
The sheriff’s office also investigates and apprehends fugitives from justice including bail violators and preserves the peace during disturbances where local law enforcement agencies need assistance. Additionally, the sheriff’s office handles civil strike court injunctions.
Lastly, the sheriff’s office issues permits to carry a concealed weapon within Pennsylvania. These permits are issued only after an appropriate background investigation is completed.
Hanna acknowledged firearms permits are a “subject of public interest” but said, “we follow the law and respect the public’s right to apply and obtain their license to carry when all the conditions and background checks are satisfied.”
Applicants must be at least 21 years of age to apply, a specific reason for the license is required, two character references are mandatory as well as a permanent residence.
Hanna said applications are put into a very robust state background check system and in 2017, 6,186 license to carry permits were issued.
Hanna said hopefully in the future, the background search will include a nationwide check and a nationwide license would be issued.
Hanna has over three decades of front-line, crime-fighting experience, according to an interview with The Press in 2015.
One of his goals when taking office was to create a family/team concept, increase efficiency and increase safety for residents and staff.
Evans said Hanna takes officer safety seriously and has instituted critical incident training, bomb recognition training, traumatic injury training and injury training for his staff.
Evans also talked about the risks and dangers to deputy sheriffs and recounted when Deputy Sheriff Douglas Paul Hartman was killed while serving a bench warrant on a theft suspect July 7, 1992.
Evans has been with the department for 27 years and said “It was a very sad day for the department when Hartman was killed and there isn’t a day that goes by when we are not thinking of him.”
Faust joined the department in 2016 after retiring as Emmaus police chief. He talked about the K-9 program, started in 2016, with the county’s bomb detection dog Nevie, a German Shepherd handled by Deputy Rich Garner. “Nevie is used daily proactively at the courthouses and government center – any county property where there is a threat,” Faust said.
The sheriff’s department is currently working on its accreditation.
Hanna started the process in his first year drafting policies which are reviewed by the county legal department, then through the union and ultimately implemented.
The department is seeking accreditation through the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission, a process, according to Faust, which is long and tedious. Once acquired, the department must submit for re-accreditation every three years. Retired Emmaus Police Department Sgt. Karl Geschwindt is working in the sheriff’s office part time to help with the accreditation process.
Evans said Hanna also encourages his team to volunteer within the community and connect with the citizens of Lehigh County.
Many of the deputies can be found volunteering as coaches in their communities and collecting items for needy families.
Hanna has welcomed Scouts and future “deputies” to the sheriff’s office and he and his staff have been spotted visiting schools and non-profit organizations in Lehigh County. There is even a photo with Hanna attempting to recruit Lehigh Valley Phantom’s “Melvin” to become a Lehigh County Deputy Sheriff.
As Hanna and his staff continue to look out for the safety of Lehigh County residents, earlier this year he warned of a telephone scam involving a man demanding residents pay a fine. The man identifies himself as Sgt. Todd Sullivan of the sheriff’s office demanding payment for fines or the resident will face a fine or jail time. “Sullivan” tells the residents to purchase a debit card and provide him with the information.
Hanna said there is no such person on staff at the sheriff’s department and stressed his deputies do not collect fines.
If residents receive a call like this, they are to call the sheriff’s office at 610-782-3175 or their local police department to report the incident.