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.

Filed Under: florida, kenneth smith, law enforcement, mike szabo, police, speed trap, waldo


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2014 @ 8:27am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.