- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

WALDO, Fla. Business leaders in this northern Florida town are beginning to think their police chief might be getting too successful at busting speeders.
They are embroiled in a war of words with the law-and-order chief, saying he is hurting business because people are too scared to risk driving through Waldo's speed traps.
For Chief A. W. Smith, there is no compromise. "Slow down and see our city, or speed up and see our judge," he said.
Waldo, a community of 821 about 15 miles from Gainesville, gets about 25 percent of its $1.1 million budget from traffic fines. AAA estimates that traffic fines make up about 1 percent of most government budgets in Florida.
"The perception is the reality," said Dena Rice, who operates a hardware store within spitting distance of police headquarters and is one of the most outspoken critics on the speed-enforcement issue in Waldo.
Critics complain that Waldo's six police officers often hide in wait for those unlucky enough to get snared in the town's maze of rising and falling speed limits.
Chief Smith denies that the town is a speed trap.
"We practice in-your-face law enforcement," said Chief Smith, whose officers issue about 17 citations a day, a tiny fraction of the 37,000 cars that pass through town each day on the way to Gainesville or Jacksonville. "If we were really a speed trap, we would write 100 tickets a day," he said.
But Kevin Bakewell, a AAA spokesman in Tampa, disagrees.
"We question their tactics," he said.
Waldo and Lawtey, Fla., 19 miles north of Waldo, are the only two towns in the nation designated as speed-trap towns by AAA, said club spokesman Gregg Laskowski.
The auto club will again try to persuade the Legislature to approve a bill that would limit the amount any town can collect from traffic fines, Mr. Bakewell said.
Judd Sheets, an electrical engineer in St. Petersburg, in an e-mail to the town's Chamber of Commerce, said he will avoid shopping in Waldo and other towns along U.S. 301 that have a reputation for cracking down on speeders.
"I still drive 301, but make it a point to never patronize any of the businesses in these cities in return for their predatory practices," he said.
But Chief Smith maintains that the work of his department makes Waldo a safer place to live. It has also reduced the number of drunken drivers, drug dealers and criminals that go through Waldo.
He said AAA has asked him to issue more warnings and fewer tickets.
"Warnings are for children," he said.

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