Remember the crazy story of the tiny North Florida town where the entire police department was disbanded after five traffic cops spilled to the city council that their boss had long imposed a strict speeding ticket quota on staff? The debacle that brought down the Waldo Police Department apparently miffed more than just the thousands of motorists who were handed pricey citations for going as little as two miles over the limit over the years. It seems the state’s lawmakers also were irked at “Waldo’s finest” for making the town a notorious speed trap – so irked, in fact, that they hit back with new legislation that nixes the dubious practice within state lines.
In effect as of January 1, SB 264 expressly prohibits local law-enforcement agencies from using ticket quotas and requires individual local governments to submit reports to the Florida Legislature if traffic-ticket revenues cover more than 33 percent of the costs of operating their police departments. That’s key, considering that in years past, Waldo has derived as much as 73 percent of its overall municipal budget from traffic fines alone. And, while the ideal ratio of police to citizens is 2.5 officers for every 1,000 citizens, Waldo had eight.
Waldo’s total landmass measures just 2.17 square miles and its population is a diminutive 1,015 according to the latest census. Yet, this small Southern town managed a national reputation for its ticket-happy traffic cops. In fact, the National Motorists Association ranked Waldo third in its list of America’s “Worst Speed Trap Cities.” Meanwhile, the AAA, one of the nation’s leading traffic safety advocates, deemed the practice such a blatant money grab that in 2003, it began posting speed trap warning billboards all along Route 301 leading into the town.
“AAA condemns traffic enforcement practices that are designed to raise revenue rather than prevent crashes” and “all practices whereby a law enforcement agency rates the efficiency of its officers based upon the number of arrests made or citations issued,” a spokesperson said.
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