Infamous Speed-Trap Town Investigated Over Tickets

Half of town's budget revenue comes from ticket fines
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 2, 2014 11:32 AM CDT
Infamous Speed Trap Town Investigated Over Tickets
In this Aug. 29, 2014, photo, Waldo, Fla., resident Mike Barrs fills up his truck with gas in Waldo. The AAA auto club named the tiny town one of only two “traffic traps” nationwide.   (Jason Dearen)

A small segment of highway that runs through the Florida town of Waldo requires drivers to speed up and slow down six times: 65mph becomes 55mph; 55 becomes 45; then goes back to 55; then back down to 45; to 55 again; and, eventually, 35mph. AAA has named it one of only two "traffic traps" nationwide. Now Waldo faces a scandal following allegations that the town 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 Chief Mike Szabo was suspended, apparently in response to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into suspected improprieties in the way officers write tickets.

Weeks later at a Waldo City Council meeting, 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. In 2013, Waldo's seven police officers filed 11,603 traffic citations, according to records obtained by the Gainesville Sun. That compares with 25,461 citations in 2013 for much larger Gainesville, which has 300 officers and 128,000 residents, including thousands of college students. The fines paid by motorists are a big moneymaker. According to the city's 2013 budget, about half of its $1 million in revenue came from "court fines" from tickets issued. The State Attorney's Office in Alachua County says it's waiting for the FDLE to finish its investigation of ticket quotas and other wrongdoing before deciding whether to file charges. (More Florida stories.)

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