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Suspended Waldo police chief resigns; town works to improve image

State authorities investigate allegations of ticket quota

WALDO, Fla. – It's a town infamous for speed traps, until recently, when Chief Mike Szabo was called out by several of his officers, saying Szabo forced them to meet a ticket quota every night in Alachua County.

Since a criminal investigation began and Friday, Szabo resigned, saying "it's in the best interest" for him.

A group of police officers said they were ordered by Szabo to write 12 tickets per 12-hour shift or face repercussions.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it is investigating the police department.

Ron Sachs, a public relations specialist hired by the town of Waldo, confirmed Szabo has made the "personal and professional decision to resign" as the town works to shed its negative image.

"The town of Waldo is committed to being known as not the nation's worst speed trap," Sachs said.

He said the town would rather be known as the "safest place you could drive as a motorist or walk as a resident or visitor."

For at least the next 30 days, a new interim police chief has been assigned to the department until a permanent replacement is found.

On Wednesday, the Alachua County Sheriff's office assigned Captain Steve Maynard to fill the position temporarily and already he's beginning to lay out a plan in terms of moving forward. 

City Manager Kim Worley said the agreement gives her time to find a permanent replacement who does not currently work for the police department.

"What is evident is that city officials case a lot about public safety and highway and will continue to place a priority on protecting public safety by enforcing speed laws," said Sachs.

News4Jax spoke with some folks in the city who said they are hopeful someone new can turn things around.

Rebecca Rossi was born and raised in Waldo, Florida, and knows the reputation the little town carries.

"We're just known for speed traps," Rossi said. "We're known for cop cars, we're known for tickets, we're known for that big yellow billboard that's just ugly, and says 5 miles ahead speed trap."

Rossi said she's looking forward to some much needed changes in the city, like putting more effort into the residents and less on handing out tickets.

"My concern is not necessarily the speed, don't get me wrong," Rossi said. "They're pulling speeders over that are going through our childrens' school zone. It's dangerous as a child, we had a crossing guard, we had a police officer there that got us to and from school safely, but a lot of things have changed over the years."

Maynard is already pointing out his plan for the near future, like striking a balance between traffic enforcement and taking on other roles like visiting with kids at local schools. Rossi said she's already noticed that in action.

"Since Alachua Sheriff's office has been out here, I've seen them watching our little kids cross the street after school," Rossi said. "They're there and they're waiving and you will see one on the block and they'll wave. You feel safe at night. You feel safe and that's something I want back."

Maynard is also working with a Tallahassee media consultant and two former state executive agency leaders to better handle traffic enforcement.