Report notes ‘toxic’ environment at Mount Dora PD: What’s being done to change that

MOUNT DORA, Fla. — Only 9 Investigates went over the plan to revamp the Mount Dora Police Department after it went through two police chiefs in a year.

In August 2020, Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray exposed a “vote of no confidence” against then-Chief Robert Bell, submitted to city staff just weeks before he suddenly retired.

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She spoke to the interim chief about a department-wide assessment that took six months to complete. It’s extensive, at more than 200 pages, and uncovered problems with culture and policies that are inconsistent, as well as a lack of training.

Now, though, the city has a plan to move forward.

The assessment reads, “during the past two years, the Mount Dora Police Department has been in a state of organizational turmoil, resulting in the termination of a Chief of Police, a Deputy Chief, and the retirement of another Chief of Police.”

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The problems trickled down throughout the agency, with several employees reporting they “searched their offices for listening devices, as the level of suspicion and distrust was bordering on paranoia,” with the vast majority describing the environment as “toxic.”

“Members of the department were suspicious of each other, the morale was not good, and that’s what I walked into,” interim Chief Brett Meade said.

Meade was brought in as interim chief to lead the assessment, which found a critical need for enhanced training. The analysis noted the only category that most officers felt confident in their level of training was active shooter response, stating they feel insufficiently trained in all other categories.

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“Being able to be effective communicators, being able to be effective decision-makers, and identifying or building those training skill sets, so that’s one of our priorities moving forward,” Meade said.

That means hiring a training supervisor, as well as a crime analyst who can identify trends in crime. The top priority, though, is reworking all agency policies and procedures.  The assessment noted that in some cases, policies and procedures are “inconsistent, contradictory, and in different formats.”

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“The Mount Dora Police Department is going to focus on our priorities, and I know our officers, our staff, we’re excited to be where we’re going with our partnerships,” Meade said.

Mount Dora Police has seen half its staff turn over in the last two years, and are recruiting for new officers right now.

More than 600 citizens participated in the assessment process.

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.