Mascotte Police Department - Coffee with a Cop

Pictures and Article by Marty Proctor

Mascotte Coffee with a Cop was well attended by both Mascotte Police Department (MPD) and citizens, residents, and local politicos.  The event provided an opportunity for individual citizens and local stakeholders to interact one-on-one with patrol officers, Lieutenant Rafael Betancourt and the Police Chief Eric Pedersen.  The meeting ran from 9 AM until well after 11.

The event was held at the Rainbow Restaurant in Mascotte.  Owner Linda Johnson was on hand to ensure that the event was well served.  She did remind us that the Rainbow has reopened their lunch buffet from 11-3 Monday through Friday and 6-3 on weekends.  Their hours have been changed to 6 AM to 3 PM 7 days a week.  The restaurant is a Mascotte tradition in continuous operation since 1964 when Linda’s family opened it.

Officer Kenia Abreu with Kids

Lieutenant Betancourt shared, ”we are pleased that the current demographic of the MPD reflects the demographic of the city.” He continued, “we were blessed to be able to add Officer Kenia Abreu to the force.  Officer Abreu has been designated a community outreach officer by the MPD. She is working with Alicia Mendenez of the Groveland PD.  We want to do more of these outreach efforts.”   Groveland Police Chief Shawn Ramsay added separately, “community policing remains the backbone of the Groveland PD philosophy.  Providing outreach and relationship building in the areas we service will and should be a priority.”

Office Abreu with GCCF Laura Henry

Chief Pedersen was kind enough to spend time answering questions from the public who were not able to attend due to jobs or other challenges.  The citizen questions were provided to this reporter in person and by social media in advance.

Q1)  Can a citizen visit the police department by walking up in person? 

Chief Pedersen responded.  Anyone is welcome to visit the police department.  Like most City, County, and other public buildings, the MPD office is currently open for appointments only.  This is in response to the Covid situation to protect the health and safety of our officers and citizens.

There is signage on the office door with specific instructions in both Spanish and English on how to contact the department.  Also listed are the hours of operation Monday through Thursday 7 AM to 5:30 PM.  If the person remains outside the office, an officer may be dispatched or an officer present may come out to meet the citizen outdoors.

Q2)  The Code Enforcement Office (CEO) was put under the MPD chain of command in September.  What is the plan for integration and enforcement going forward? 

Of course we will respond to address any citizen complaints as we do with the PD.  The  CEO will also self initiate complaints when they see a violation in the course of their duties.

We are responsive to the Community and Council.  It is not specifically up to the City Council to direct us but we do want and expect guidance.  A good start for us is to receive direction and know what the citizens and council want.  If the council directs us to aggressively go out and look for certain issues they want addressed, that is the response we will take.

Q3)  Can you explain the phone call routing at MPD? 

If you call the MPD, it will be answered by an automated system, providing the option to pick from a menu.  If the menu option selected is busy or no one is available to take the call in person, the call is forwarded to Lake County Sheriff’s Office Communications Center.  Police, fire, and EMT calls from most of the cities within the county are routed to this county manned dispatch center.  All calls to that facility are handled by trained personnel on recorded lines.  This protects and preserves any case or crime information.  The dispatch facility is fully connected ensuring that inter-department mutual aid agreements and common radio platforms are used to provide immediate aid when needed.

Chief Pedersen also reminded us, “please remember that we all pay county taxes whether we live in the City or not.  We appreciate those county dispatch services.”  Using dispatch services that are already in place is cost effective rather than duplicating them and paying for them again.

Q4)  A local business owner asks:  How is the MPD keeping up with the growth occurring here in Mascotte?

We monitor the growth, calls for service, and crime rate.  We also have to monitor the officers’ committed and non-committed time.  This is a difficult number to actively and accurately monitor.  We also rely on a ratio of sworn officers to citizens.  We just added a new position this fiscal year, our 13th sworn officer.

Q5)  How can a citizen best express a non-emergency, non-crime concern?    

You can attend an outreach function like this.  I am also present at City Council meetings.  Otherwise, emailing the MPD or me.  I receive and monitor notification of emails on my cell phone.  You can also call.  Citizens are welcome to call and leave a message on my line and I do return citizen calls.

We have recently designated a community outreach officer.  Clearly with the health situation, community outreach has been somewhat restricted.  With a community this size, the citizens expect us to be out in the field.  Outreach and community policing is important.  The community should know the officers.  If they see the face, they should know the officer.

There is a “Report a Concern” button on the front page of the City website where you can express concerns.  Any citizen can create an account, complete a citizen request and expect a response from the correct department.

Q6A)  If I am a business owner, a resident, or a visitor…what can I do to help MPD do their job?

Your best tool is being aware of what is going on around you, your business and home.  If you see something out of place or unusual, report it.

Q6B)  So specifically, what can I do as a citizen?

It is really back to basic crime prevention.

  • Inventory your possessions.
  • Lock your car if it is outside.
  • Do not leave your keys in the vehicle.
  • Close your garage door.
  • Porch cameras can help.
  • Motion lights and general lighting is also helpful.
  • There are often crime patterns where these obvious steps of having the cars locked and porches lit prevent opportunistic crimes.
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