Where’s Waldo? In jail hopefully. : Waldo Police ticket racket is busted
Highway 301 runs through Florida just South East of Jacksonville. From Baldwin to Hawthorne, it is notorious for it’s issuing of speeding tickets. Two towns in particular – Lawtey and Waldo – are infamous for their overzealous ticketing, so much so that AAA officially declared them “Traffic Traps” : The only two cities in the United States to have such a declaration.
Per AAA site:
“Traffic Trap” – AAA condemns traffic enforcement measures and practices which are designed to raise revenue rather than prevent crashes or where there is evidence that enforcement is not justified by sound engineering principles. AAA particularly condemns the use of traffic traps which involve unfair, unethical or illegal law enforcement tactics or traffic control devices, as well as the use of speed measurement devices on roads with speed limits appreciably less than warranted by sound engineering principles.
Under “Traffic Traps” AAA says about Lawtey and Waldo:
“These two small Florida communities are located on U.S. Highway 301 situated about halfway between Jacksonville and Gainesville and still depend on revenue generated by traffic tickets to help meet their annual budget”
AAA is so outraged, it even paid for billboards to warn motorists traveling down 301 to beware that they are approaching these towns.
Waldo and it’s trouble with ticket quotas
Waldo is a town of 1,015 people [2010 census] and only 2.2 square miles but in terms of it’s negative Karma, it punches above heavyweight. People have been railing on about Waldo for many years now.
In 2009, Diane Daniel blogged about it under ” The worst speed traps? They’re in Florida“. Diane give some details about how much revenue they generate:
Earlier newspaper reports have put the towns’ ticketing income at a third of their budgets. And an ABC News report last July said that in Lawtey, population 700, police officers in 2007 wrote nearly 9,000 tickets, netting the town $300,000. That’s more than 25 tickets a day!
The police response is always “We’re just making sure people are safe.”
There were 148 responses to Diane’s post where many are telling their tales of their experience with the rogue city – click on the picture to get an idea.
Waldo was recently in the news on Sept 2nd 2014, where two of it’s police senior officers – Police Chief Mike Szabo and Corporal Kenneth Smith – were suspended after the local police rebelled and stated they were given ticket quotas of 12 per shift or face repercussions. This is illegal under Florida law.
The Blaze also covers the same story and adds more details:
In 2013, Waldo’s seven police officers filed 11,603 traffic citations, according to records obtained by the Gainesville Sun newspaper. 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 money-maker. According to the city’s 2013 budget, about half of its $1 million in revenue came from “court fines” from tickets issued.
After council appearance, the officers filed a complaint with the Florida Inspector General’s Office seeking protection under the Florida Whistleblower Act. The officers said they were forced to go public because Worley failed to conduct an investigation after they told her about the quotas, the mismanagement of evidence and other problems, according to the complaint.
Chief Szabo was already under suspension from August 12th in response to an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the way Waldo officers were writing tickets.
The good news on Sept 7th: Szabo officially resigned from the force on friday evening. Security is now being performed by Alachua County Sheriff’s Office who hopefully will be more objective.
Being curious about how such a town so small could trap so many people, we took a virtual drive around Waldo using google maps and we created a graphic which shows how they do it. Route 24 is much worse that 301 in that look at how small the 65-55-45 mph zones is : About 300 feet ! The school zone for route 24 is also intentionally designed to trip up non-conformance.
Hampton & Waldo: Brothers is Arms?
Just up 301N from Waldo is Hampton. 6 miles in fact. Hampton was also known as a Speed trap and earlier this year, it was looking like Hampton would be dissolved as a city. From March 2014 CNN story:
The battle for the 89-year-old city’s survival began in February with the release of a scathing audit that read like a textbook of municipal malfeasance — finding 31 violations of local, state and federal codes, along with allegations of nepotism, double-dipping and personal use of city property.
Surviving was a sweet win for this city of just 477 residents — 476 if you don’t count the former mayor, who’s sitting up the road in jail on a drug charge.
Already a notorious speed trap, the place gained even more infamy as a symbol of small-town corruption when the legislators threatened last month to yank its city charter. Late-night comedians mocked Hampton as “too Florida, even for Florida.”
But even as Conan and the rest of world cackled, even as investigators carted boxes of documents out of Hampton City Hall, even as some residents pointed fingers, others rolled up their sleeves and started to turn their city around.
In just four short weeks, they came up with a plan that convinced state Rep. Charles Van Zant and Sen. Rob Bradley to spare their city. They won an uphill fight nobody thought they could win.
The real story is how Hampton came to run a speed trap racket. From CNN again:
A Texaco station out on nearby U.S. 301 asked for police protection after a few bad traffic accidents and a couple of homicides. And so, Hampton agreed to annex a 1,200-foot stretch of highway. Only later did someone come up with the idea that there was plenty of easy money to be made from catching speeders and writing tickets, just like neighboring cities Waldo and Lawtey were doing.
The way the city map was redrawn, it looked like a giant mosquito, with Hampton sucking money directly from the highway. Problem was, the police department constantly overspent its budget, and all that ticket revenue never seemed to benefit anybody outside of City Hall.
Roads-2-Roam created the map which shows how small a jurisdiction Hampton had over US 301. We approximated it to be 700 feet where speed limit went from 65 mph to 55 mph. The scam was so lucractive – remember this is a town of only 476 people – Hampton Police hired up to 19 officers.
The police department swelled to 19 officers, including the chief. But Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith said many of the officers weren’t trained properly, and the audit found that some of them drove uninsured vehicles. One officer, nicknamed “Rambo,” dressed in tactical gear and strapped an assault rifle across his chest — just to write tickets.
2011 was Hampton’s bumper year for tickets — and it was the year Van Zant was caught by Hampton’s radar guns. The lawmaker promptly paid his ticket, but the experience reminded him of the growing stack of citizen complaints. In April 2013, Van Zant asked the state auditor general to look into the city’s finances.
In other words, if they hadn’t busted a Talahassee politician who then wanted revenge, they may still be running this public scam.
Roads-2-Roam are furious. AAA and others had raised enough noise that this was going on.
- We are furious with the local Florida politicians who allow such practices to go on.
- We are furious with the local police who simply just followed orders.
- We are furious with the other police forces who knew this went on and did not speak up.
- We are furious with the state politicians who didn’t do anything until one of the own got busted, did they do any thing about it.
- We are furious with the local electorate who voted (and continued to vote in) these scumbags all in the name of cheaper taxes.
All of you deserve to be fed to the lions.
If you must use US 301 in Florida, remember that local business people knew this was going on and accepted it. You should consider NOT patronizing their business.
Two down, only one to go, Lawty.
- Hampton: The mayor’s arrest and details of the state audit.
- Lawtey: see comments on Speedtrap.org
For those heading through Lawtey, take a look at this youtube video by “Honoryouroath”: speed trap primer on Lawtey school zone