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US ‘speed trap’ town disbands police force

October 2, 2014

WALDO, Florida (AP) — Waldo, a tiny town in Florida has such a notorious reputation as a speed trap that the American Automobile Association erected billboards to warn drivers about it, but all that may be about to change.

On Tuesday, weeks after the city’s police chief and interim chief resigned due to state investigations into ticket quotas, mishandling of evidence and other issues, Waldo’s City Council disbanded its police force.

Officials in the town never hid the fact that citations paid for the small police force, arguing that the speeding problem was a real public safety hazard. For years motorists cruising through the 2-sq. mile (5-sq. kilometer) town have passed the AAA’s warning signs.

Trouble with Waldo’s police department started in August, when Chief Mike Szabo was suspended amid a Florida Department of Law Enforcement probe into his alleged recording of conversations with fellow officers.

A couple of weeks later the town’s interim chief, Cpl. Kenneth Smith, was also suspended after five of the department’s officers told the City Council that he was mishandling evidence, taking city property for personal use and imposing a strict ticket quota. Smith and Szabo later resigned, and the department crumbled.

About half of the town’s roughly $1 million budget comes from citations, according to its budget. This helped pay for the police force. Portions of revenue from citations will still go to Waldo’s coffers, but it’s unclear how the city’s budgeting will be affected in the future.

Waldo’s City Manager Kim Worley refused to be interviewed for this article.

“I hate to lose the police department, just for general safety levels,” Harold Coday, 80, said outside Waldo’s post office. “And the officers were good guys, they were just doing their job writing tickets. They had good intentions.”

Some citizens worry that the speeding problem will worsen and criminals will feel they have carte blanche.

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Jason Dearen contributed to this story

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