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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Apr. 7, 2020 4 months ago

Police agencies see less traffic, crime during county order

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Two weeks in Orange County’s stay-at-home order, local law-enforcement agencies discuss the public’s response to it from their perspective.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

Two weeks into Orange County’s stay-at-home order — now a statewide mandate — it’s up to citizens to do their part in flattening the curve by choosing to stay at home. 

Many local law-enforcement agencies say they've seen a reduction in the number of people out and about, as well as cars on the road, since the order went into effect March 26.

Only businesses that provide daily necessities or are considered essential can remain open under a stay-at-home order. Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, gas stations, pet supply stores, hardware stores, laundromats and more remain open. Restaurants cannot offer dine-in service, but they can provide takeout and delivery services.

Winter Garden Police Capt. Scott Allen, administrative services commander for the department, said staff has received some calls from citizens concerned about actions others are taking. However, he said, most people generally stay within guidelines of the order. Allen said there also has been a reduction in crime.

“A lot of our crime stats are from retail outlets, so with retail outlets not being open, we’re not having a lot of shopliftings and stuff like that,” Allen said. “That’s where a lot of it comes from. …The public’s really been really good about policing themselves, to be honest with you, and we’ve responded to very few complaints about it. The stores have done well with taking steps to mark the floors and show what social distancing is.”

Winter Garden has issued each of its officers at least two N95 masks, Allen said, and they also have gas masks with canisters. The department also has reduced the amount of person-to-person contact its staff has with each other, and many meetings are conducted by phone when possible.

“Those people that are authorized or considered essential, they’re still working and doing what they’re supposed to do,” Allen. “Even myself, I’ve seen a lot of people holding doors for other people so they don't have to touch them themselves. It’s nice to see the public doing that.”

In Oakland, Police Chief John Peek agreed that most residents seem to be abiding by the stay-at-home order.

“We’re stopping people on the bike trail at night, but honestly from what I’ve heard it’s not very much,” Peek said. “I would say that, for the most part, Oakland residents are adhering to the directions. Crime rates still stand low for us. We’re seeing a slight uptick, not a lot, in the disturbances and domestic disputes, but nothing too bad yet.”

“The public’s really been really good about policing themselves, to be honest with you, and we’ve responded to very few complaints about it.” — Winter Garden Police Capt. Scott Allen

Oakland officers have been issued gloves and a limited supply of masks, Peek said. Officers are required to glove up when answering calls for service, and masks are to be used more for responding to medical calls, traffic crashes and similar instances.

Much of West Orange County also includes unincorporated areas, such as Horizon West. These are the Orange County Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction, and OCSO staff believes most residents and businesses are adhering to the mandate.

“We have not arrested anyone or given any notices to appear,” said Michelle Guido, OCSO spokesperson. “We have done neither related to the executive orders — curfew and stay-at-home order. Rather, we are responding to calls when people have concerns. Our deputies have been able to speak with business owners or others who might be at a social gathering and get them into compliance — if they were out of compliance.”

In Ocoee, Assistant Police Chief Saima Plasencia said she hasn’t observed much of a reduction of traffic on the road. Rather, she said, it’s more spread out now that morning and evening peak hours are not as prevalent. 

“I still think we’re seeing the same number of people on the road,” she said. “Now those people are just kind of spread out, which is why you (see) less people on the road. I think we’re seeing a lot of the same traffic we’ve seen before. People are still going to the grocery store, to the doctors, going to get meals at the schools. … When you start seeing the lines going into businesses, that may further reduce people from going out.”

Plasencia said the department has seen a large reduction in overall call volume but an uptick in domestic and petit theft calls. Ocoee’s officers are protecting themselves by adhering to social distancing guidelines and speaking with callers outside their homes when possible. There also is the option to do police reports for nonviolent crimes by phone, and officers are equipped with gloves, masks and gowns if need be.

Windermere is one jurisdiction in West Orange County that has seen a major reduction in traffic due to the stay-at-home order. Heavy cut-through traffic has been an issue for the town for a while now — currently, not so much.

“There’s a clear difference in how much traffic is on the road right now,” said Windermere Police Chief Dave Ogden. “Any (other) given day you see traffic driving through here nonstop, but there’s definitely a reduction now. … If there’s one measure for us in the town of Windermere, it’s our traffic.”

Call volume has slowed down in Windermere, as well. One thing Ogden has been intentional about from day one is creating long-term sustainability for the agency so they can continue to serve. That starts with protecting his team.

“From the beginning, I considered this a real threat,” Ogden said. “Especially being a small police department means we are particularly vulnerable. … We’re prepared with all PPE equipment. I’ve asked them to wear the surgical masks they have when they’re out in public. We’ve also asked our officers right from the beginning to reduce their risk of exposure when at all possible.

“We have to understand legally how we can enforce orders and things going on out there,” Ogden added. “I made sure that our guys understood what legally they could and couldn't do. It’s not my directive that we are here to arrest people for violation of orders, but we are ambassadors of this order.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Associate Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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