A couple of news stories that broke last week have drawn some unflattering attention to the Lawrence Police Department, and the way these incidents are handled will be critical to maintaining the community’s confidence in local law enforcement.
City leaders confirmed Thursday that two Lawrence police officers had been suspended following an FBI investigation into reports that local officers had fixed traffic tickets in exchange for being given tickets to Kansas University athletic events. The other incident that came to light Thursday involved a Lawrence police officer who was arrested Jan. 5 by a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Although it seems the district attorney’s office is taking a long time to decide whether to prosecute the DUI case, officials say it’s not uncommon to wait for additional test results before making such a decision. Police Chief Tarik Khatib wouldn’t comment on the case, saying that whether the officer had been suspended was a personnel matter. Nonetheless, the officer’s name is on the record, and local residents will be watching to see how the case is resolved.
Driving under the influence is a serious charge, but the individual officer’s case isn’t as significant to the overall reputation of the police department as the ticket-fixing case. City Manager David Corliss said he didn’t expect criminal charges to be filed in the case, but he assured the public that Khatib was taking “the necessary personnel actions, which are serious.”
They should be.
The KU ticket fiasco is the scandal that just won’t go away. Corliss confirmed that the person whose traffic tickets were fixed now is serving time in federal prison for his or her involvement in the ticket scam. Khatib reportedly received an anonymous tip concerning the tickets in May 2011, and the case was turned over to federal officials for investigation. That was the correct action. Unfortunately, it appears that similar reports concerning police officers had come to light before May 2011 — and before Khatib was chief — and were dismissed after an internal investigation failed to find enough evidence to pursue the cases.
City officials also acknowledge that more than two officers probably were involved in ticket-fixing over a period of several years. That’s disappointing and suggests that the case should have been turned over to federal investigators much sooner.
In recent years, some local residents have called for the creation of a citizens review board to oversee police operations. Over the years, Lawrence has enjoyed an excellent police department free of political influence or outside pressure. The best way to ensure this type of operation is through excellent leadership in the police department and sound oversight by the city manager and city commissioners.
Corliss and Khatib deserve credit for pursuing a case that apparently had been swept under the rug before. Nonetheless, Corliss is correct in saying the police department now has some work to do in rebuilding its reputation in the community.