San Diego Police Chief Bill Kolender and his top administrators routinely dismiss parking tickets for friends, family members and former police officials, a Times investigation has found.
The Times found 78 parking tickets canceled through the chief's office in the last 22 months, including citations against Kolender's wife and son and Asst. Police Chief Bob Burgreen's daughter.
Kolender and Burgreen frequently left the tickets for subordinate officers with the understanding that those officers would fabricate excuses and dismiss them. Kolender's wife, for example, received two tickets in the 1200 block of Prospect Street in La Jolla, one of the busiest shopping areas in the city. In one case, the dismissal slip said "parked in front of his own driveway"; the other said, "Driver was unaware of parking restrictions. Signs not obvious."
Kolender admitted during an interview Friday that he had improperly "taken care of" tickets for his wife and himself and said the practice would stop immediately.
"I should not have done it," Kolender said. "I did it."
Burgreen was more blunt about "picking up" a ticket for his daughter, who had parked in a red zone.
"That's wrong," Burgreen said. "I shouldn't do that, and I won't do it anymore. I deserve to be chastised for doing it."
From now on, citations will be dismissed out of a central command in the department's traffic division, according to Kolender and Burgreen. They said requests for cancellations will no longer be accepted in the chief's office.
"Perhaps what we have been doing is not defensible," Burgreen said. "We will have to reestablish some credibility in this area, and it will start at the top . . . any possibility of personal abuse in terms of friends and relatives, that needs to be completely eliminated. If we've made mistakes, we will not make them again."
Extending favors for friends by fixing tickets is "never permissible," said Coronado Police Chief Jerry Boyd, who teaches police ethics at the San Diego County Sheriff's Academy.
"I wouldn't dismiss one even if I thought my son was absolutely dead right," Boyd said. "I just wouldn't do it because it opens you up to too much criticism. I don't think there is any way in the world you can defend that kind of action.
"To protect my reputation and the department's and just to keep it clean, I'd tend to say 'Hey, go to court.' "
Mayor Maureen O'Connor said she was "very surprised" to learn that Kolender and Burgreen personally dismissed tickets for friends, family and former police officers.
"If it's true, I'm disappointed," O'Connor said in an interview last week. "Obviously, the city manager would have to take a look at it and do something about it, if in fact they violated (city) policy."
Kolender and Burgreen said they typically would dismiss a ticket by giving it to Lt. Charles Ellison without an explanation. Kolender confirmed that Ellison, who is assigned to the chief's office, would then fill out a dismissal form and make up an excuse such as "driver gone for change" or "vehicle inoperative."
Burgreen said, "We've been handing it to our staff, and . . . we know full well what the reason is, and we just don't bother to tell them. On the way out, we say, 'Have this one dismissed,' and the staff is forced to guess . . . and (a staff member) doesn't want to go to the chief of police and say, 'Hey give me a reason.' "
Even Burgreen conceded an excuse such as "driver gone for change" is flimsy. "It's going to take that parking controller a few minutes to write that ticket. How long does it take you to get change?"
In some cases, Kolender and Burgreen insisted that tickets were canceled for legitimate reasons. But they conceded that the appearance of a relative or friend going to the chief's office to get a citation dismissed "looked bad."
Kolender's wife, Lois, has had three tickets dismissed since April of last year.
"I asked Lois," Kolender said. "One of them was a busted meter, and the other two I took care of."
Lois Kolender was cited in June, 1985, for parking in a red zone in the 1200 block of Prospect Street in the La Jolla shopping district. That ticket was canceled because the driver "parked in front of his own driveway," according to the dismissal slip.
Chief Kolender said he and his wife have never lived on Prospect Street.
In April, she was cited for parking too long in a one-hour zone in the same block in front of The Collector, a La Jolla jewelry and art store along one of the most congested and strictly enforced parking areas in the city. This time Ellison wrote: "I received this from Chief Kolender. Driver was unaware of parking restrictions. Signs not obvious."
Kolender's son Dennis has had at least two tickets dismissed, one by his father in 1981 for parking beyond a 15-minute limit and another by Burgreen in February for parking his vehicle outside a marked space. The most recent dismissal form said, "Motor stopped running. Unable to navigate wheel."