Dept. Of Law Enforcement Investigates Notorious 'Speed Trap' Town Whose Seven Officers Wrote Up More Than 11,000 Tickets Last Year

from the two-mile-stretch-of-highway-no-longer-expected-to-'make-it-rain' dept

Law enforcement should not be viewed as a revenue generator. If a local police force is naturally self-sustaining, great. But if anyone starts thinking money first, all sorts of problems develop and the public becomes nothing more than wealth in search of extraction. Asset forfeiture is the most common abuse. People with too much cash in their possession will find it removed. If a cop (or a dog) thinks he smells drugs, vehicles are seized, bank accounts are frozen and homes go on the auction block.

This lower level perversion of this turns small towns with plenty of through traffic into Nottingham Forest, only with the local PD stealing from everybody and keeping it. Waldo, FL, a town of 1,000 that stretches along two miles of Highway 301, has the following for speed limits:

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.

AAA itself has called out the town for its ridiculous speed limit changes and has even posted a billboard outside the town limits to warn drivers. Now, the state has stepped in to take control of Waldo’s traffic enforcement.

The situation simmered for years until this month, when Police Chief Mike Szabo was suspended on 12 August, apparently in response to an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into suspected improprieties in the way officers write tickets.

Mike Szabo, who exited with allegations of demanding officers to write 12 tickets per shift, was replaced by Corporal Kenneth Smith. Smith, however, wasn’t a capable replacement.

The officers also leveled allegations at the 26 August 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.

The town appears to be finally righting years of wrongs, but only because the state is now involved. During the last several years when the police were contributing nearly half of the city’s $1 million budget through traffic enforcement, no one seemed to be making much noise. And the amount of tickets issued to keep the city half-afloat borders on inconceivable.

In 2013, Waldo’s seven police officers filed 11,603 traffic citations, according to records obtained by the Gainesville Sun newspaper. That compares with 25,461 citations in 2013 for much larger Gainesville, which has 300 officers and 128,000 residents…

That’s not law enforcement. That’s just a scam wearing a uniform. Six speed limit changes in two miles is ridiculous under any circumstances, but even more so when the fluctuations are clearly there to trap anyone who misses a single sign. The state Dept. of Transportation actually sets speed limits but notes that those responsible considered input from Waldo’s PD when putting these into force. According to a somewhat defensive statement from the Florida DOT, foot traffic to schools and a popular flea market justified the speed limit fluctuations. “But it’s up to [Waldo] to enforce the speed limits” lobs the ball back into the Waldo PD’s court, but it’s barely enough to clear the net. Yes, Waldo could issue more warnings or turn the run through town to a straight 35 mph, but it’s had no reason to do so until now, after years and years and hundreds of thousands of tickets.

It’s not clear how the town will make up this revenue “shortfall” in the future, but judging from the brief glimpses and curt “no comments” issued, it’s none too happy. Whatever pain this causes for it in the future, it’s earned. The city was perfectly fine with turning drivers into compelled donors for years. Now, it’s going to need to get by on half the budget and let its police officers return to being police officers rather than a revenue stream.

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Comments on “Dept. Of Law Enforcement Investigates Notorious 'Speed Trap' Town Whose Seven Officers Wrote Up More Than 11,000 Tickets Last Year”

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46 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

Wouldn’t it be easier to set a national directive where speed limits must not change for, say, 5 kilometers after a sign? If there’s the need for lower limits ahead just set them for the whole portion.

Or better yet, do away with the limits at all and use speed bumps on school, hospital vicinities or where they are needed. Much, much better approach since the ones who consciously speed dangerously will do so regardless of the limits.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Why?

The appropriate solution is for this town to be sued into the floor and ALL local law enforcement involved to be “criminally” prosecuted including the mayor and city council.

Instead of chasing MORE LAWS… they should chase the government to actually treat them like they treat every other criminal they deal with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You are thereby saying that the treatment of other criminals should be the standard. That doesn’t sit well with me.

Either way, to avoid repetition of these cases you need laws and even specifically here you need laws. What specific law are you suggesting the city council, the police or Florida DOT can get prosecuted for breaking?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

For officials dealing in law enforcement yes.

Tell me… when you get to toss your weight around with impunity are you…

A. More likely to do so responsibly when you get a graceful hand when you mess up?

-or-

B. More likely to do so responsibly when you are treated the same way you treat the criminals you bring in?

Abuse of authority is against the law, are you saying it is not? Corruption is corruption, and officials placing speed traps and rigging the system against the citizens for money grab is corruption and the same as a thief walking in and stealing the cost of those traffic violations from you wallet, or do you disagree with that too?

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Speed Bumps _Could_ Work.

The railroads have a kind of “smart speed bump.” It’s got an internal shock absorber, and its “bumpiness” depends on the speed with which a car goes over it. The railroads use it in hump yards, so that a car with no brakes activated can be made to run fast through one part of the hump yard (the switch matrix), and then slow down to successive speed limits (entering the storage tracks). This could be readily adapted to an automotive speed bump.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

where’s waldo ?
not too far away…

thing is, locals know they are a speed trap and drive judiciously through town; so its only stupid tourists etc who bear the brunt of it… well, a lot of local UF students probably get caught too, speeding through on their way home, or whatever…

its a nothing of a town, and it would be (obviously) REAL easy to miss any one of the speed limit signs, not to mention the quick succession they come in, such that you can hardly react to one sign to slow down before you’re right to the next one…

but, yeah, this shit been going on for MORE THAN the 40 years i’ve been down here… i think they’ve had their wrists slapped a couple times in the past, too, but just happens all over again…

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

As a former UF student, I can assure you that Waldo is rather famous in the area. I drove through the town numerous times while going to and from Miami to visit family. Thankfully I knew about the traps and would always drive 5mph under the speed limit.

One interesting thing is that Florida state law (at least when I lived there) does not allow for tickets under 5mph over the speed limit. The tickets don’t even have a value for anything under “5 mph over”. So if you got pulled over for going 57 in a 55 zone, you could have the ticket easily thrown out…

…assuming you were being charged with speeding. Waldo broke this rule by charging you with a “moving violation” for speeds even 1 mph over the limit. The fee was set in stone…they couldn’t increase it based on how fast you were going, but it let them cheat Florida state law.

I really hated driving through that place and remember literally seeing three to four cops parked around trees and under bridges every time I drove through. The funny part is I assumed the town had more than 7 cops; I wonder now if they ever actually dealt with any real crimes.

Probably not. Pretty funny to see the local scam on an internet news site.

scotts13 (profile) says:

Not the only ones

I used to drive route 13 through Maryland; there were several small towns along that mostly barren highway that seems to be set up solely for speeding ticket revenue. Multiple, rapid speed changes, partially obscured signs, dedicated hiding spots for multiple police cars.

I’ve always though there was a simple solution for this: Don’t let the town keep the money. Put all ticket revenue (minus documented and audited costs) into a statewide highway fund. The town gets back it’s share (based, perhaps, on miles of road within the town) and everything is fair.

scotts13 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not the only ones

Agreed, this should not be a revenue stream. But, a general fund would remove MOST of the motivation for abuse. If you knew writing additional unjustified tickets would raise the shared pool of money by some minuscule fraction, instead of your town keeping the whole, what, hundred bucks or so?, you’re not going at it quite so hard.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Not the only ones

They already do, in fact. There are laws out there to limit what the police can keep in civil forfeiture cases, as a (failed) attempt to keep police from seizing anything and everything in sight for personal gain. In practice, it becomes:

“What? We aren’t keeping all this loot, we’re giving it all to the feds! We can’t help that they donate 90% of it straight back to us, can we?”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Not the only ones

Florida, Broward County Sheriff Nick N. had a solution to that problem.

Known drug criminals were arrested and released on the condition that they would produce a certain level of corporation with the sheriff department. That corporation resulting in them observing younger white northern youth who belief had it that they had access to certain level or of resources.

After being busted by the sheriff’s deputes they always claimed that they did not do drugs and most likely they did not but tests of their property always showed drug usage.

Funny the drug bust always occurred after one of the afore mentioned drug dealers was in their car or hotel room under some pretest such as cleaning or delivering package.

Nothing was ever missing. Nor was anything ever proved but the negative was always assumed.

And, this is not as irrational as one may think. I personally witness sheriff deputes plant drugs on one known drug dealer in my apartment complex.

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually Waldo current system is a definite improvement over their previous system which came about because of a fiasco in previous years (early 1980s) with giving tickets to certain members of the Florida legislature.

Formally one did not have to even have to pass through Wald to receive a ticket from the Waldo police as they were actively giving out tickets in other towns. Yes in Florida that is legal as all police are considered to have state wide authority.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

let me amplify what you said a little…
used to be -a la dukes of hazzard- for simple speeding tickets, you could leave the city/county/park sheriff at their ‘border’, and they were not (supposed) to pursue you for that…
but they changed florida law where ALL ‘sworn officers’ have the authority to pull you over for a traffic offense any where, any time, any place, in their jurisdiction or not, on duty, off duty, in their sleep, whatever…

JoeDetroit (profile) says:

This is very common

Westland Mi (suburb of Detroit) had a budget shortfall some years ago. It was a result of a “labor action” on the part of the police officers. They were unhappy about cutbacks or something & stopped pulling people over for suspected drunk driving. The city used forecasts of driving convictions as part of their budget. They made no secret of this. It was openly discussed in the council meetings as to why they had the shortfall.

This is nothing new btw & yea Nottingham Forest seems particularly egregious.

Anonymous Coward says:

I live near there. Where Florida 24 & US 301 meet is Waldo. The speed limit definitely needs to slow down, but not down to 35. In my opinion, the way things are marked and the obvious nature of the roads, any driver who got a ticket in Waldo deserved it. What they really need to do is build a bypass for the two roads but with the radical anti-new highway groups in Alachua County I don’t think it will ever happen. The Alachua county sheriff is now running the Waldo police. That’s not necessarily any better. You might also want to talk about Lawtey north of there. Another notorious speed-trap where the speed limit doesn’t need to change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Highways destroy small towns , that’s why people fight them , live in a town that gets bypassed by a highway and watch that town crumble due to failing business’s and the only companies that can afford to put in a stop for gas area are the corporations , slowing down the speed is the best option , the states can’t afford to take care of their failing highways as it is why build more.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

in a real sense, i think the opposite is true here…
waldo -as a lot of other ‘truckstop’ towns were(are)- was a fairly hopping place back in the day: it was on Hwy 301, which was THE main highway for a number of decades in that area of the state, and a pipeline for snowbirds, so it had a lot of motels, diners, tourist traps, etc… (still has some, but 90% of them rotting away)
also was a semi-hub of transportation (still is to a minor extent) with a couple major highways and railroad intersecting there…
now ? the interstates have bypassed that area, so not nearly as much traffic as historically…
have a big truckstop, a popular flea market, and an amtrak ‘station’, and that’s about it…

Anonymous Coward says:

I might be in the minority here but in small towns AND where the signs are clear I prefer to see gradually reducing/speeding up limits instead of a sudden 65/30 drop which has the potential of causing more accidents (and more speeding tickets) as people who don’t know the area rapidly hit the brakes with no chance of dropping to anywhere near the limit as soon as pedestrian crossings or school buses loom up. And posting a 65/30 drop a 1/2 mile outside town is going to be ignored or just move the problem. Many times driving rural areas for the first time (road trips) I’ve been really glad that I get a chance to adjust as some small town I’ve never heard of suddenly looms and then disappears in the rear view mirror. But this is all predicated on signs being clear and unobstructed.

relghuar says:

What??

“Now, it’s going to need to get by on half the budget”

You mean they won’t have to return the money they’ve stolen over the past years?? Because somehow I can’t see the government letting any ordinary citizen keep loads of stolen cash :-/ They’d most likely also have to pay quite hefty additional penalty along with returning everything.
But apparently the government has no problem letting the government keep its own stolen stash…

A. Nnoyed (profile) says:

Crap Florida Speed Traps

This crap has been going on for years. When I lived in Fort Lauderdale there was Hacienda Village, a notorious speed trap which was disenfranchised in 1984, 30 years ago. This article in Wikipedia discusses the fate of Hacienda Village.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacienda_Village

Usually these scams come under close scrutiny when one of their scammers (officers) cite the wrong person:

“(allegedly having its charter revoked after the HVPD cited an influential state representative for a traffic infraction)”

Actually the land Hacienda Village rested on, is now under the I-95 Interchange where State Road 84 and I-595 crosses I-95 and was purchased through the eminent domain law.

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