SAN DIEGO — City Manager John Lockwood on Tuesday reprimanded Police Chief Bill Kolender and his top assistant for fixing traffic tickets for friends and relatives and improperly using city employees and equipment for personal benefit.
Concluding a two-week administrative review, the city manager also found that Kolender failed to report gifts on conflict-of-interest forms and improperly used his position to help a friend buy a handgun without waiting the mandatory 15-day "cooling off" period.
Lockwood said he didn't seriously consider firing Kolender and Assistant Chief Bob Burgreen because many of their actions were based on longstanding police practices and Kolender is an "outstanding" police chief.
"Chief Kolender is a gregarious and popular person who likes to do things for people," Lockwood wrote in his 11-page report. "This is a strength. But it is also a weakness, as he is apt to assist individuals in instances where the chief of police should not."
Lockwood turned over the results of his review to the San Diego County district attorney, but said he saw nothing more than "technical" violations of the law.
A grim-faced Kolender told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that he was "embarrassed" and regretted his actions. But he said he felt that the city manager's review did not have "any serious implications" regarding his effectiveness as head of the 1,500-member Police Department.
"Needless to say, I am very pleased to see that the city manager's investigation makes a distinction between a corrupt Police Department and some poor administrative practices," Kolender said. "This is, despite everything that's been said over the past several weeks, an honest, professional Police Department."
Lockwood began his inquiry after a Times investigation found that Kolender and his top aides had dismissed thousands of parking tickets and at least 30 citations for moving violations since the beginning of last year--many of them for friends, relatives, former police officials, the media and prominent San Diegans.
The Times reported that police administrators used fabricated or flimsy excuses when dismissing tickets, and failed to consult the officers who had issued the citations. The Times also reported that an internal police audit warned Kolender and his top assistants two years ago that tickets were being dismissed improperly.
Lockwood said he read the audit but didn't examine it closely because it only confirmed what had been common knowledge in the department for years.
He also said in an interview Tuesday that his investigation was not a "whitewash" because Kolender and Burgreen will have to live with the stigma of a public rebuke. The city manager said he doesn't believe his findings signal deeper problems within the Police Department.
"In terms of police corruption," Lockwood, said, "I've got to tell you, in my opinion, you've got a speck of foam on a sea of emotion. It's wrong, but . . . ."
Lockwood said he considered forcing Kolender and Burgreen to repay the city for using personnel and equipment, but decided against it. He said the choice came down to either a termination or a reprimand.
"I could have given a suspension to prove that I was tough, no-nonsense and government is pure and all that kind of stuff," Lockwood said. "But if you think those two people haven't paid a price . . . you're mistaken.
"When Chief Kolender passes away or retires, you know what they're going to write? 'Chief Kolender, who was publicly reprimanded in 1986 by the city manager for accepting gifts. . . .' They're going to be writing that forever."
The results of Lockwood's investigation have been forwarded to Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller. A spokesman said Miller's office will study the findings before deciding whether to pursue criminal charges.
Lockwood said that City Atty. John Witt told him early Tuesday that Kolender may have violated state law in at least two areas--using his position to help a friend buy a gun without waiting the 15 days mandated by state law and not reporting a gift of tickets to San Diego Chargers games on his financial disclosure form.
Asked if he is concerned about the district attorney's investigation, Kolender said: "No, I'm not."
Lockwood's administrative review focused on six categories of allegations that surfaced in the past month. In all but one case, Lockwood concluded that Kolender and Burgreen were either wrong or violated city policy. The categories:
- Kolender and his top aides fabricated excuses to dismiss parking and moving citations for friends, relatives and influential San Diegans.
"The department's actions as to family or personal acquaintances appears to be similar to that practiced by the Department over several decades," Lockwood wrote. "While there is historical precedence for this conduct, it is wrong.