We are at a turning point in America when it comes to police and law enforcement. The rapidly increasing militarization and heavy-handed, unconstitutional behavior of police forces across the country have finally begun to wake up the population. The proliferation of smartphone videos, easily shared on the internet, has begun to lay bare the shockingly common incidents of police misconduct. With protection from unions, qualified immunity, and ‘internal investigations’ the police have been all but totally unaccountable to the people for far too long.
However with more and more stories of blatant corruption coming to light, in some cases the outcome is good. One such case is in the small city of Waldo in north central Florida. Located on 301, a high traffic route between Gainesville and Jacksonville, Waldo has for years been well known by locals as a notorious speed trap. In 2012 Waldo was named #3 in the country on a list of “Worst Speed Trap Cities”1. But they had been making people angry long before that. Allegedly AAA, in response to the flood of tickets it’s clients were receiving, erected a billboard outside of town warning incoming drivers of the speed trap ahead2. Local rumors say the sign is the work of a wealthy lawyer, so incensed by the actions of the Waldo PD that he spent thousands of his own dollars to thwart their operations. Regardless of it’s origins, the sign has been in place for at least a decade.
While official ticket quotas and other forms of unsavory behavior had long been suspected, as it usually is with police there was nothing the people could do.
However, several weeks ago one of their own (perhaps one of the mythical good cops we keep hearing about – but more than likely just a disgruntled employee) brought forth evidence that their was indeed official ticket quotas handed down to the officers; demanding that as many as 12 tickets per shift be issued by each officer on duty!3
Such official ticket quotas are explicitly illegal under Florida law5, but of course the incentives are very clear: Records show that roughly half of the small city’s $1M budget for 2013 came from traffic citation revenue and assorted court fees!3
The insanity of allowing the cities or police departments that issue the tickets to directly benefit financially from doing so MUST come to end. Until these gross conflicts of interest are eliminated this type of behavior will continue. They will just use tactics other than explicit quotas to accomplish the same goal.
A common question directed at police from victims of their revenue generation is “Don’t you have any real crimes to solve?”
The answer, at least in Waldo, is “apparently not”. – After the city realized the police department wasn’t going to be bringing in $500k a year, they coincidentally decided to totally disband it almost immediately, leaving policing duties on the shoulders of the county sheriff.3
All I can say to that is “Sic semper tyrannis”.