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Kolender Violates Police Ethics Policy by Taking Gifts

November 16, 1986|GLENN F. BUNTING and RALPH FRAMMOLINO | Times Staff Writers

Police Chief Bill Kolender has accepted gifts worth thousands of dollars from influential San Diegans, a practice that violates his department's ethics policy and is frowned upon by many police executives.

Some gifts have come from sources who later had traffic tickets dismissed by the chief's office. Other gifts may pose a conflict of interest for Kolender because the donors have business connections with the Police Department or the city.

Kolender declined to discuss specific cases but adamantly denied that he has ever accepted an inappropriate gift.

"I don't take gratuities or anything like that," Kolender said Friday. "I have taken the sports things. I don't take any kind of alcohol. I don't let someone take me out who does business with the city and the Police Department."

The free items include vacations in Hawaii and Palm Springs, rides in limousines, season tickets to Charger games, a pass that allows him into any National League baseball game, a pair of annual passes to Sea World, and dinners at fund-raising events with President Reagan and Gov. George Deukmejian.

A Times investigation revealed last week that Kolender and his top aides have dismissed thousands of parking citations and at least 30 tickets for moving violations, some with fabricated excuses and many for influential San Diegans, friends, relatives and the media. Some of the tickets canceled were issued to people who either work for or are related to those who gave the police chief free passes to ballgames.

As City Manager John Lockwood continued a wide-ranging investigation into the ticket-fixing practices and other allegations, Kolender said Friday he remains confident he will "prevail." He told reporters he wants to continue to "set an example" for his officers and "provide them leadership."

But if lower-ranking San Diego police officers followed Kolender's example of accepting free gifts, they could expect to face discipline.

Police officers are prohibited from accepting "any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or any other thing of nominal monetary value" from anyone who remotely deals or comes in contact with the Police Department, according to department conflict of interest codes. The policy states that "at no time shall an officer accept free meals or drinks, reduced prices or any other consideration that is not regularly enjoyed by the public."

The department is so strict in enforcing its policy that it has disciplined officers for taking a free cup of coffee, said Patrick J. Thistle, a San Diego attorney who represents about 200 officers in personnel matters.

Asked whether the chief's acceptance of gifts contradicts department rules, Police Cmdr. Keith Enerson, a department spokesman, said: "We have a policy that you don't take free freebies, and I think that we all should adhere to that policy. On the surface, it appears there may be some contradiction."

Coronado Police Chief Jerry Boyd said the acceptance of "a freebie" by a police administrator can be even more damaging to a department's image than if an officer takes a gift.

Boyd, who teaches police ethics at the San Diego County Sheriff's Academy, is one of many police chiefs who have a firm personal policy against taking gratuities.

"Somebody will offer something," he said. "It is declined. Then months later you find out that, had it been accepted, that person had fully intended to use it for some kind of twist. I just don't think the risk is worth it."

A diary prepared by Officer Jeanne Taylor, who worked for two years in Kolender's office, portrays a police chief willingly and frequently accepting gifts as well as participating actively in the give-and-take of community affairs. Taylor prepared the diary, which was presented recently to the city's Civil Service Commission because she objected to the personal errands she was required to do for Kolender and other top officers.

Kolender's activity in the community has built up enormous good will for himself and for his department.

In 1980, Kolender asked Steve Gardella, vice president for security at PSA, to donate two round-trip tickets to Las Vegas for a black church in Southeast San Diego.

"Kolender was doing something where a church went broke," Gardella said. "He asked me if I would assist the church."

Gardella said the gift was presented to the church organization at a benefit held at the police pistol range.

On some occasions, Kolender and his top assistants have done favors for friends who have given the chief gifts.

For example, since 1981 San Diego Padres President Ballard Smith has sent Kolender an annual pass that grants him and a guest free admittance to any National League ballpark. Each year, Smith said, he sends a list containing the names of about 50 friends to the league office to get the passes.

"Most people on the list will write me a letter saying how much fun they have showing their friends they have this pass," Smith said. "It's one of those status symbol kinds of things."

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