Under deadline from sheriff, Waldo agrees to call in traffic stops

Waldo Police Officer Mikel Towns

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.

What had been shaping up as a stand-off between Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell and Waldo over dispatch services has apparently ended.

Darnell threatened to stop providing dispatch services for the small town's police department effective Friday. She claimed she was taking the action for officer safety reasons. Waldo officials claimed the issue was about money.

The problem came down to whether or not Waldo police would call in to the Combined Communication Center every time they made a traffic stop. A letter sent to Darnell late Tuesday morning by the mayor and city manager said Waldo police would immediately call the center every time they make a traffic stop.

Darnell said that when she took office two years ago she thought it was unfair that Waldo was receiving dispatch services from the communications center but - unlike the other entities using the center, Gainesville police, Alachua County Fire Rescue and her agency - was not paying for the service.

"I saw this as an inequity, that for nine years they had received free dispatch services," Darnell said. "So we spent two years working out an agreement."

The agreement called for Waldo to pay $6.50 for each call to the communications center, an amount set by the executive board that oversees the center and a fraction of what the larger agencies pay, according to Darnell and city officials.

The agreement also called for Waldo police to follow the same protocols as other agencies using the center, including calling the center each time officers made a traffic stop.

"My concern is not about the money but about officer and citizen safety," Darnell said. By calling the communications center to report the tag number and description of a vehicle being stopped along with the location of the stop, officials would have an idea of what had been going on and who had been involved if there was a problem, for example a stopped motorist driving speeding away or shooting at an officer.

City Attorney John McPherson said Waldo police interpreted the protocols differently. Officers were continuing to operate under a system in which they only called in traffic stops when they had a reason to believe their safety or public safety could become an issue.

McPherson said that Darnell appeared to be viewing the situation from the perspective of deputies in rural areas of Alachua County where a back-up deputy could be several minutes and many miles from a back-up deputy.

"We are operating in a small space of less than two square miles with multiple officers on duty at all times, and those officers are in communication with each other constantly," McPherson said. "In Waldo, officers are often within sight of each other."

Waldo budgeted $20,000 to $30,000 to pay for the new expense this year. City officials estimated the city would generate 300 to 350 contacts with the communications center each month.

Darnell said a red flag went up a few months ago when her employees noticed the number of calls to the communications center from Waldo had fallen off from as many as 500 a month to about 120 a month. According to the sheriff, further investigation by her staff showed that the dramatic decline was the result of officers not calling in to the communications center to report when they had made a traffic stop.

McPherson said the city would have needed to budget about $90,000 - the bulk of the $130,000 in ad valorem taxes collected by the city annually - to pay for the dispatch services.

On Tuesday Mayor Louie Davis and City Manager Kim Worley sent Darnell a letter notifying her that the communications center would be notified of all traffic stops by Waldo police. Davis and Worley also wrote in their letter: "Although the City has not budgeted a sufficient amount of money to cover this increased number of calls to the dispatch center, the City will address this issue in the proper forum."

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