A tiny north Florida town infamous for its speed trap policing may lose its police department after state investigations launched into illegal speeding ticket quotas resulted in the resignation of not one, but two police chiefs.
Waldo, Flordia is one of only two US towns officially labeled “traffic traps” by AAA.
A small segment of highway that runs through Waldo requires drivers to speed up and slow down six times: 65 mph becomes 55 mph; 55 becomes 45; then goes back to 55; then back down to 45; to 55 again and eventually, 35 mph.
Waldo faced scandal following allegations that the town’s police victimizes motorists to turn a profit. Two police chiefs have been suspended, the police department has rebelled and the state is investigating possible wrongdoing.
The situation simmered for years until last month, when Police Chief Mike Szabo was suspended in response to an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into suspected improprieties in the way officers write tickets.
The issue then burst into the open two weeks later at a Waldo City Council meeting, when a group of police officers said they had been ordered by Szabo to write at least 12 tickets per 12-hour shift or face repercussions.
The officers also leveled allegations at the Aug. 26 meeting against Cpl. Kenneth Smith, who had been picked to fill in for Szabo. The officers complained that Smith had, among other things, mishandled evidence. The city council then suspended Smith.
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell says she can’t provide an interim police chief past Oct. 3 as she needs those resources back. She signed a one-month contract with the city to provide an interim chief while the city decides what to do.
Interim police chief Steve Maynard, a lieutenant with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, says in the last 21 days he has been there, the departments’ five officers have continued to enforce speed limits with no ticket writing quotas — and he has also broadened their policing duties.
“I told them there was no ticket quotas, but there was more than that,” Lt. Maynard said. “We have been helping the citizens and businesses of Waldo by doing more patrols, by doing some more narcotics enforcement in the city limits.”
Maynard says the city council will meet Tuesday night at 7 p.m. to decide whether the town will rely on county sheriff’s patrols instead.
City manager Kim Worley said Waldo can’t sustain it’s police department as property tax revenues and traffic ticket revenues have gone down. Maynard says meeting minimal law enforcement standards in 2014 won’t be easy with rising costs and dwindling resources.
Police State Daily attempts to reach city council members for comment were unsuccessful.
Update: The Waldo city council turned over law enforcement duties Wednesday morning to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, according to sheriff spokeswoman Becky Butscher.
The council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to disband its police force after member Carolyn Wade reported that the local prosecutor led her to believe a grand jury would be convened to investigate the police department if it continued to operate and the results would be humiliating for the city, according to the Gainesville Sun.
Butscher said the sheriff’s office had provided the town a temporary police chief for one month but refused to extend the agreement past Oct. 3.
Butscher said the department is considering hiring another deputy or two for the part of the county that includes Waldo. She said Waldo typically had one or two officers on duty at any given time.