Sheriff's Office leading Waldo Police Department

By Vic Micolucci, General assignment reporter, vic@wjxt.com
Published On: Aug 29 2014 03:43:25 PM EDT
Updated On: Aug 29 2014 07:30:19 PM EDT

Earlier this month, the city manager announced the suspension of police chief Mike Szabo after 4 of his own officers accused the chief of forcing them to meet ticket quotas, or face punishment. City leaders suspended the interim chief, Kenneth Smith. He's accused of improperly storing seized drugs, stealing hotel towels, and using city money to put up surveillance cameras at his home.

WALDO, Fla. -

The state of Florida continues to investigate the Waldo Police Department, where the chief's own officers accused him of making them meet a ticket quota.

Police Chief Mike Szabo was suspended earlier this month, and on Thursday the city manager also put the interim chief on leave.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating.

Now the Alachua County Sheriff's Office will soon be stepping in to help out and lead the department.

A sergeant with the Sheriff's Office said people should not worry, the town is still safe and police are still on the street patrolling and pulling people over for speeding, despite the investigation.

"It makes Waldo look bad, very bad," Waldo resident Trevares Jones said of the investigation.

Szabo was suspended Aug. 12 after four of his own officers complained that Szabo would require his officers to write a certain amount of tickets each day or else they wouldn't get days off. The officers also claimed Szabo lied on some of the tickets he wrote and said it was all in an effort to pull in nearly half of the city's $1 million yearly budget.

Quotas are illegal in Florida, and officers claim Szabo lied on some of the tickets he wrote. News4Jax has not been able to reach Szabo for comment.

"They seem like they are out trying to give them to you, because every time you see them in a cut or on the side of the road, just looking for something to happen," said Stephanie Desue, who drives through Waldo.

On Thursday, 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.

There are five security cameras near the entrance of Smith's apartment. When you look around at the other buildings, you don't see any. Smith did not answer the door when News4Jax knocked.

One of the officers who reported the alleged corruption is still on duty, but politely said he can't talk about the investigation right now.

No one from the city would speak Friday. The city manager said in a statement that she requested the Alachua County Sheriff's Office's help with the Police Department.

Sgt. Becky Butscher, of the Sheriff's Office, said she can't remember anything like this happening before.

The sheriff will be sending a commander to oversee the once seven-person department. But right now, officials are still working out the details. They said they will meet again next week and try to come to an agreement.

"There is no reason to worry, absolutely not," Butscher said. "They still have Waldo police officers that are working day and night. If there are any issues that need to be addressed, they are more than welcome to contact the Sheriff's Office. The Waldo Police Department will continue to provide 24 hour law enforcement coverage, however if residents have any concerns, they can always call the Combined Communications Center at 352-955-1818 and a request a response from an Alachua County Deputy Sheriff."

So for now, residents in the two-mile long community wait for answers. Waldo resident Trevares Jones said he hopes to see a new leader.

"I wouldn't say everybody, but with the two that they have, it would be better for someone else to take over," Jones said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating. 

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