ABOVE: The bar at Fiesta Grande Mexican restaurant in Mount Dora on May 5.
Times have changed in the days of COVID-19. Now police officers in small towns like Mount Dora can find themselves stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Over the years, Mount Dora Police Department (MDPD) has emphasized its community policing, a philosophy that creates a constructive partnership between law enforcement and the community. The strategy enables police departments to build trust and understanding which creates a stronger bond with local residents, business owners and neighborhoods. That bond helps shape goodwill and prevent crime.
Now MDPD must balance community policy with public safety by enforcing Florida Governor’s Ron DeSantis’ executive orders designed to protect the public’s safety by mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
That is what happened on May 5, one day after DeSantis allowed a limited reopening of restaurants' dining rooms, but did not allow patrons at at close proximity to each other at their bars. That evening MDPD responded to Fiesta Grande Mexican Restaurant after receiving a call about the large crowd. At the same time, a photo of the restaurant’s bar crowded with patrons appearing to have drinks was being circulated statewide on social media. The temporary order requires restaurants have six feet of social distancing, but compliance is the responsibility of the business owners, not the patrons.
The image was captured by a food delivery driver who was on duty and had to enter the restaurant. Although the driver is not the person that placed the call to authorities, his photo sparked concern inside the city and out.
“Local law enforcement has been working a fine line between enforcing the governor’s executive order and being empathetic to the needs of our business community,” said Mount Dora Police Chief Robert Bell. “We appreciate our merchant partners and hope they police themselves. However, in the rare occasion where we have to get involved, their quick compliance to the order is appreciated.”
Meanwhile, other Mount Dora restaurants are complying and working hard to provide a safe environment for their employees and patrons. Pisces Rising published a reopening message on Facebook that outlined how they will be improving safety during COVID-19, including switching to disposable paper menus, screening staff prior to work and requiring masks for employees that have direct contact with customers as recommended by DeSantis. The Olive Branch Mediterranean Grille also requires staff to wear masks, placed a hand-sanitizing station at the entrance for guests and employees, physically removed several of its tables and chairs and increased sanitation efforts. Las Palmas Cuban Restaurant also requires its staff to wear masks. Allyson A Bakeshop, whose owner is a former ER doctor,accepted only credit card payments and had an efficient no-contact policy during the initial shutdown. All of the voluntary safety practices at restaurants come at an increased cost to the businesses that are already operating under difficult financial limitations.
Although local police departments are on the front lines to enforce DeSantis’ order for public health, anyone can report business violations directly to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) using their online form available here.
For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, click here and download the area's free mobile app.