The Waldo City Council voted 4-1 in favor of dissolving the local police department on Tuesday night at the Yerkes Center.
Despite community concerns voiced throughout the meeting, the council decided it was financially unfeasible for the city to keep the department.
The city of Waldo and its police department have come under fire in recent months after two Waldo police chiefs were suspended for allegations of illegal ticket quotas and mishandling evidence.
The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office has been providing a temporary police chief for the area, but that contract will expire on Friday. The impending expiration of the contract prompted the Waldo City Council vote.
Kim Worley, Waldo’s city manager, recommended to the council members on Tuesday night that the police department officially be disbanded. Worley noted outdated equipment and negative publicity as reasons behind her recommendation but said the lack of funding was ultimately the main issue.
“This year — if we were to keep the department as it was with seven officers, including the chief, keeping the low rates of pay — the department was headed for a loss of $112,000,” Worley said. “Other small communities have had to give up on their police departments due to the expense, and I think we’re to that point now.”
Council members discussed their opinions on the issue throughout the meeting. Most said the decision was very difficult. Councilwoman Carolyn Wade, who is from Waldo, said closing the department was sad but necessary.
“Too much has gone on too far, and I just don’t think we can recover,” Wade said. “It’s sad for me — I don’t want it to happen, but I don’t see any way out of it.”.
Waldo residents also gave their opinions at the meeting.
Lucy Rowe Cook, a resident of Waldo and founding member of the Waldo Historical Society, voiced her concerns about what would happen to Waldo without a police presence.
“I have friends in Hawthorne, and they have a terrible time without a police force,” Cook said. “We need to find a way to keep our police. I’m not going to feel good if they’re gone.”
Kim Andrews, a Waldo resident and business owner, also voiced concerns during the meeting, directing his questions about what would happen without a police force to the council members themselves.
“If somebody gets killed out here on 301, we have no police presence,” Andrews said. “If somebody gets robbed over here, and it takes a half-hour to get an up here from Gainesville, how many of you are going to take responsibility for that? We need our cops.”
Many Waldo residents echoed Andrews sentiments of support toward the local police force at the council meeting, but the community’s concerns were not enough to overcome the financial realities of the city’s budget.
Timothy Logan, a Waldo police officer of six years, said although he was hopeful going into the meeting, he accepts the council’s decision regardless.
“I didn’t give up before the meeting, but it is what it is,” Logan said.
Logan also said the outpouring of support from Waldo residents was humbling.
“I was very grateful and humbled that they were willing to come in and speak their mind in front of their fellow citizens that may have been opposed to the police department,” Logan said. “They didn’t want to see us go, they want us to stay. I was thankful for that.”
The council’s decision will grant officers four weeks of paid administrative leave and will officially disband the department as of midnight on Oct. 1.
Despite the council’s difficult decision and the community’s concerns going forward, Wade said she was proud of Waldo, and the city will continue to move forward from this decision.
“This is America. This is Alachua County. This is the city of Waldo. These are the citizens of Waldo, and we can recover,” she said. “We have to keep going.”