SAN DIEGO — A former head of the San Diego Police Department traffic division said Wednesday that he routinely dismissed without investigation moving-violation and parking citations sent to him through office mail by Chief Bill Kolender and his top aides.
"It's a situation where you're in a position where you take care of these things," said retired Capt. Pat Rose, who supervised the traffic unit between 1978 and 1981. "When you get them from the chief's office, you dismiss them. I had a job to do, and I did it. . . . What was I going to do?"
Kolender and Assistant Chief Bob Burgreen declined to return telephone calls Wednesday to answer questions about the Police Department ticket-dismissal practices, which are now under investigation by the city manager's office.
A Times investigation has revealed that Kolender and his aides often used flimsy or fabricated excuses to dismiss thousands of parking tickets and at least 30 citations for moving violations for friends, family members, influential businessmen, law enforcement personnel and members of the media.
Burgreen said Monday that the department's top brass dismissed moving violations only after conducting thorough investigations. But The Times reported Wednesday that at least six police officers who wrote those citations said they were never contacted before the tickets were canceled.
Mayor Maureen O'Connor said Wednesday that revelations about ticket dismissals have created a "credibility problem" for Kolender and his top assistants.
"It's disturbing if the chief says they talk to the officers and the officers were never approached . . " O'Connor said. "Now, there's a real credibility problem."
No Criminal Inquiry
A spokesman for the district attorney's office said prosecutors do not intend to begin a criminal investigation into the matter. Instead, the district attorney is waiting to see what City Manager John Lockwood uncovers in his administrative investigation, which Lockwood estimates will take two weeks.
"We do not have an investigation of this matter under way at this time, nor do I anticipate one being started in the immediate future," said district attorney's spokesman Steve Casey. "Obviously, we're aware of the situation . . . but we see at this point no reason to launch a criminal inquiry."
In other developments:
- Two sources at City Hall told The Times on Wednesday that shortly after O'Connor was inaugurated in July at least two of the mayor's staff members and her brother, Shawn, were approached by a police officer who said he could have tickets "taken care of."
The sources said the offer came from Officer Michael O'Neill, who is assigned to protect City Council members during public meetings.
Offered to Help
O'Neill said he recalls offering help only to O'Connor's brother, who parks in a white passenger-loading zone when he drops off the mayor at City Hall. A motorist can park only three minutes in a white zone, and O'Neill said he could help O'Connor's brother with any complaints, including receiving parking tickets.
The officer said he told the mayor's brother, "If the citation is in error--you've only been there three minutes--let me know, I will take care of a problem in regard to that."
O'Neill said his comments were not a "carte blanche" offer to have tickets fixed. "I don't have the ability to cancel somebody's citations," he said.
- The president of the Police Officers Assn. said he does not want to second-guess Kolender and police administrators for dismissing tickets.
"If someone voids a traffic ticket, it's not my position to pound on the chief's desk and ask for an explanation . . " said Lt. A. L. (Skip) DiChercio. "The chief of police does not owe police officers an explanation for those kind of actions. . . . There has to be some kind of trust upwards and downwards."
Support for Chief
DiChercio said the rank-and-file officers remain in complete support of Kolender.
"Every single call that I've received has been in support of the chief. . . . If this situation was managed improperly, it wasn't done in any way to hurt the community or police officers."
- Management at KCST television, Channel 39, the NBC affiliate in San Diego, said Wednesday that they planned to pay for parking tickets that the Police Department had dismissed for the station's reporters.
Rose, who retired from the Police Department in 1984, said Wednesday that he believes that he would have been transferred out of his job if he had balked at routinely dismissing the citations from the chief's office. He said he dismissed "a handful" of moving violations and "numerous" parking citations during his tenure as head of the traffic division. He said other officers in the division also dismissed tickets for the chief's office.