A scandal laced police department in Florida has been forced to close following an exposed ticket quota scheme and lack of funding.
On September 30, the Waldo City Council voted to close the department because they lacked the funds necessary to update their storage facilities and computer systems as recommended by the Florida Police Department of Law Enforcement Investigation. The department had already been the subject of one investigation by the FDLE when five officers with the WPD presented evidence to City Council that indicated Chief Mike Szabo and Cpl. Kenneth Smith were involved in a ticket quota operation. The evidence lead to a second investigation and both men being suspended. Szabo and Smith later resigned.
The small town has been known as a speed trap for years. All that changed when the officers revealed the operation. Following the revelations, City Manager Kim Worley signed a contract with the neighboring county sheriff. Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell agreed to sign a one month contract. On October 3rd the contract expired and Sheriff Darnell would not resign. Without the support of Alachua County the WPD does not have the necessary funds to make changes to storage facilities and computer systems as required by the FDLE.
This left the Waldo City Council with little choice but to vote in favor of closing the department down. According to The Tampa Bay Times, State Attorney Bill Cervone told Councilwoman Carolyn Wade that the decision was an effort to keep the city from more bad publicity. Cervone also advised her that if the city kept the department open he would present a case to a grand jury in Alachua County, further embarrassing the city.
The investigations on the police officers remain active. Policing of the communities will go to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
Waldo police Officer Brandon Roberts, one of the five officers who came forward, said he did what he did because of his oath to the constitution taken when he became an officer. Roberts told the Times that, “A lot of people complain about cops not stepping across the blue line, and this is a prime example, because you have to worry about this kind of stuff.” He said the loss of his job was were the resignations of Szabo and Smith.
Hopefully the work of these officers will lead to more officers being willing to cross the thin blue line and encourage “good” officers to come forward.
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