Perhaps what rankles most about the practice of police officials fixing tickets willy-nilly is not that it is a minor form of corruption but rather the arrogant presumption on the part of those who have gotten the tickets that life owes them a free ride--or at least a free parking place.
There are so many things wrong with this custom that it's hard to decide where to begin attacking it: Perhaps with the fact the police are supposed to uphold the law, not use it the way a salesman uses desk calendars to curry favor; or perhaps with the unfairness to those drivers who do pay their parking tickets, 378,359 of them during fiscal 1985, or perhaps with the way it undermines the integrity of the judicial system at the very point most people encounter it.
In the wake of a thorough Times investigation that showed how the police cancel parking tickets with reckless abandon and have even taken care of some moving violations, Police Chief Bill Kolender and Assistant Chief Bob Burgreen vow that the policies of dismissing tickets will be changed. But neither seems to have grasped the point that it was wrong to have done it in the first place.
The explanations by the police and their beneficiaries of why various tickets were dismissed are the most entertaining aspect of this story. What it seems to come down to is that if the driver was on a noble mission--making a trip with the Chargers, for example--and knows someone in authority, the ticket has been fixed.
Some examples include a San Diego Unified School District peace officer who "apparently failed to read the numerals in the meter," a City Council aide who was held up in an official meeting, a Superior Court judge who was ticketed while making an appearance "as part of my civic duty." Then there is the head of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce's motion pictures bureau who certainly can't risk "ruining a deal" by excusing himself to feed a meter while parked near a movie set.
We don't doubt these are all good explanations for why the parking offenses occurred. But are they grounds for dismissal by the police? Is it justice for a judge to have his ticket dismissed if a woman who gets one while dashing into a market to pick up baby formula must pay?
Sometimes, paying parking tickets is just one of the costs of doing business. But among those who haven't accepted that are members of the news media, who have had more than 200 fixed in the past two years. Some news executives see parking freebies as a free press issue; one simply notes that tickets "are expensive." Both attitudes serve the media poorly by claiming a special status when none is deserved.
Kolender and his top aides also have dismissed at least 30 moving violations in the past two years for friends, relatives and prominent business people, including the wife of Padres pitcher Rich Gossage.
Incredibly, after the Times stories appeared last week, Kolender's press officer surveyed local news executives to find out what they thought the ticket-fixing policy should be in the future. As chief of police, Kolender should not need any help in knowing that this practice, however popular among a select few, is wrong.
With more than 15,000 tickets dismissed last year, Kolender clearly has allowed the situation to get out of hand. If even a third of those tickets were canceled for illegitimate reasons, the amount of money lost to the city would approach $100,000. City Councilman Uvaldo Martinez lost his job for misappropriating $1,800 of city funds.
The district attorney's office should immediately open an investigation into whether Kolender and his aides have improperly used their authority by dismissing tickets for those with influence.