Sheriff's Office formally takes over Waldo Police Department

Published On: Sep 03 2014 03:39:00 PM EDT   Updated On: Sep 03 2014 11:33:32 PM EDT

The small town of Waldo, Florida is making national news. The small town's budget is about $1.2 million per year, and one third of that is from speeding tickets. Waldo is known by locals for its' continuous seed limit change. An investigation into the changes that the police department could be making.

WALDO, Fla. -

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell has entered into a formal agreement with Waldo Mayor Louie Davis and City Manager Kim Worley to take over law enforcement services within the city limits, the Sheriff's Office said.

The agreement, which is only for 30 days, became effective at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday. It will go before the Waldo City Council, which could ratify the agreement and make it long-term.

"I commend the city of Waldo for recognizing that this is a very serious issue and that it needed to be addressed," said Darnell. "I very much appreciate them reaching out to the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, and I have put ... Acting Capt. Steve Maynard in charge as the interim chief of police in the city of Waldo."

Maynard will be the commander in charge of the Waldo Police Department and will report to Maj. Latrell Simmons for day-to-day patrol and criminal investigative operations, according to a news release from the Sheriff's Office.

While under the command of Maynard, the uniform traffic citation "quota" will no longer be in effect, according to the release. However, traffic violations will be enforced.

"Basic patrol duties expected of Waldo police officers include responding to dispatched calls, increased patrols in neighborhoods, business checks and serving the citizens of Waldo with the highest level of professionalism," the release reads. "You may periodically see an Alachua County deputy sheriff working side by side with a Waldo police officer to supplement their community outreach. Residents of Waldo can expect professional and courteous service from both law enforcement agencies."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the Police Department, where the chief's own officers accused him of making them meet a ticket quota. Waldo has a $1.2 million annual city budget and one-third of that is generated from tickets.

Police Chief Mike Szabo was suspended last month, and the interim chief was later put on leave.

Quotas are illegal in Florida, and officers claim Szabo lied on some of the tickets he wrote.

Last week, the city manager announced the interim chief, Cpl. Kenneth Smith, was also on administrative leave. He's accused of improperly storing seized drugs, stealing towels from work-related hotel trips and using city money to install surveillance at his home.

Meanwhile, there's a new push to shed Waldo's image as one of America's worst speed traps. According to the Gainesville Sun, the city has brought in Ron Sachs, a public relations specialist with the Florida League of Cities, to help campaign for one speed limit through the entire city instead of three.

He released this statement Wednesday: "Waldo has repeated its persistent request that the Florida Department of Transportation set a consistent, safe, predictable speed limit along Main Street or Highway 301 and Highway 24."

For Jacksonville drivers heading to Gainesville, once hitting the Waldo city limits, the speed limit on U.S. 301 drops from 55 to 45. From there it changes five more times, bouncing between 55 and 35 mph along a three-mile stretch.

“Outside the town limit, there are signs that say 'Speed limit strictly enforced.' And they mean that here,” Sachs told News4Jax on Wednesday. “It's not an explanation or justification for any sort of speed trap or any sort of quota system, if there ever was one. The town is doing it the right way and the legal way.”

Sachs said the city is considering creating a panel of highway experts to review the city's policies and consider changes.


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