Speed Trap Town in Florida Under Investigation Over Ticket Quota

Sep 02, 2014 03:20 PM EDT | Matt Mercuro

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A tiny town between Jacksonville and Gainesville, Florida has long had a reputation as a speed trap, and now its police officers are confirming they're acting under an illegal quota.

A segment of highway that runs through Waldo, F.L. forces drivers to speed up and slow down six times: from 65 mph to 55 mph, 55 then becomes 45 mph, which then goes back to 55 mph, then down to 45 mph, to 55 mph, and then finally 35 mph.

AAA named the town one of just two "traffic traps" in the entire nation, and even put a billboard outside the limits of the town to warn drivers to slow down and to pay attention to speed limit signs before entering, according to the Associated Press.

Now Waldo is under investigation after allegations that the town victimizes motorists in order to make money. Two police chiefs have already been suspended and the state is looking into possible wrongdoing.

Police Chief Mike Szabo was suspended Aug. 12 in response to an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into suspected improprieties in the way officers write tickets.

Two weeks later during a Waldo City Council meeting a group of police officers said they were ordered by Szabo to write out at least 12 tickets per 12-hour shift or "face repercussions," according to AP.

Officers also spoke out against Cpl. Kenneth Smith, who had been picked to fill in for Szabo. The officers claimed that Smith mishandled evidence, among other things. Smith was then suspended by the city council.

Waldo's reputation as a speed trap is one thing, but the allegations made by the officers made headlines since ticket quotas are illegal under Florida law.

Seven officers filed 11,603 traffic citations in 2013, according to records acquired by the Gainesville Sun newspaper. Approximately 25,461 citations were filed in 2013 for the much larger Gainesville, which has 300 officers and 128,000 residents.

The city's 2013 budget showed that about half of its $1 million in revenue came from "court fines" from tickets handed out to motorists, according to AP.

Officers also filed a complaint with the Florida Inspector General's Office looking for protection under the Florida Whistleblower Act. The said that they felt forced to go public because Worley didn't conduct an investigation after they told her about everything that was going on, according to the complaint.

"City manager Worley broke the trust of the concerned members and went straight to Chief Szabo," the officers said in the complaint, according to AP. "Chief Szabo then took a retaliatory stance against the members for approximately six months."

The State Attorney's Office in Alachua County is waiting for the FDLE to complete its investigation of the accusations before deciding whether to file charges against either Szabo or Smith. 

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