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Police Audit Warned of Improper Ticket-Fixing Two Years Ago

November 20, 1986|RALPH FRAMMOLINO and GLENN F. BUNTING | Times Staff Writers

An internal San Diego Police Department audit warned top-ranking administrators two years ago that officers were improperly dismissing traffic tickets and should follow police guidelines for canceling citations, The Times has learned.

Top police officials declined on Wednesday to discuss--or even confirm--the internal probe into ticket-fixing practices.

"These investigations are intended for the chief of police. . . .," said Assistant Police Chief Bob Burgreen. "They are not to be released publicly."

But two police sources told The Times that the department's inspection and control division prepared the report in 1984 or early 1985 and sent it up the chain of command for review. The report recommended that top-ranking officers give closer scrutiny to the reasons for canceling moving violations, the sources said.

One of the sources--an officer no longer with the force who requested anonymity--said the audit examined more than 20 canceled moving violations. The review revealed that some of the dismissals were based on phony excuses, the source said.

A Times investigation showed last week that the Police Department continued to fabricate excuses during the last two years.

The 1984 audit contradicts recent comments by Police Chief Bill Kolender and Burgreen that they had been unaware of problems with ticket-fixing within the Police Department.

"We're taking a look at our citations cancellation policy," Kolender said Nov. 10 in response to the monthlong Times investigation that showed the chief's office had dismissed at least 30 moving violations within the last 22 months. "If there is something that needs fixing, we'll fix it. . . . We're not saying everything is perfect, but when something is wrong, we'll take care of it."

Cmdr. James Kennedy, who reportedly initiated the police audit, said Wednesday that all internal reports are sent to Kolender for review.

On Wednesday, Kolender declined comment.

City Manager John Lockwood, who is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into alleged police improprieties, said Wednesday he was unaware of the internal police report.

Lockwood added that he has already talked with Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller about the investigation and will brief Miller on his findings before making a public announcement next week.

Miller, who said he has discussed the allegations with the state attorney general's office, said he will decide whether to pursue a criminal case after meeting with Lockwood.

The city manager's office "is looking at whatever you people published. . . .," Miller said. "If they believe that something that has occurred is within a criminal nature, they have . . . the responsibility to bring it to me."

Meanwhile, a second investigation into the Police Department by the Civil Service Commission got off to a rocky start Wednesday when the city attorney's office threatened to sue the commission if it hires outside counsel for the probe.

The commission is investigating allegations by Police Officers Assn. attorney Patrick J. Thistle that the Police Department and the city attorney's office intimidated officers who filed disability claims. Since at least one of the allegations is against the city attorney's office, the Civil Service Commission wanted to hire outside counsel to avoid any potential conflict of interest, Commissioner David Lewis said.

"We feel that it's very important that the employees of this city and the citizens of this city view this as an independent investigation," Lewis said.

The commission voted, 3-0, to ask the City Council for money to hire the outside counsel. One commissioner abstained.

Members of the city attorney's office responded by saying they would sue the commission and the City Council if outside attorneys are hired. And the city attorney's office would tell the city auditor not to pay for outside counsel, Chief Deputy City Atty. Jack Katz said.

"The auditor wouldn't do it against our advice," Katz said. He added that to pay for outside legal advice is "a tacit admission that we do have a conflict. And we don't feel we do."

The investigations at City Hall began after The Times reported that the Police Department dismissed thousands of parking tickets and more than 30 tickets for moving violations, many written to the media, friends and relatives of top police administrators, since the beginning of 1985.

Many of the excuses were flimsy or fabricated, The Times investigation showed, and Kolender and Burgreen personally dismissed tickets written to their relatives and friends.

About two years ago, top-ranking police administrators were warned by their own internal investigators about the abuses in ticket dismissals.

"It was recommended that there be closer scrutiny or supervision of the citations that were dismissed," said the former officer. "As I recall, it was pretty short and sweet. You don't tell the chief how to do something."

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