It took a week for Lawrence city leaders to release basic details about a police ticket-fixing case. One officer is now gone from the department, and another is suspended as a result of an FBI investigation. Beyond that, the public knows little.
To restore the public’s confidence in the police department, the city must not consider the matter closed. Too many questions remain about how the ticket-fixing could go on for years, how widespread the problem was and what safeguards will be instituted to prevent it from happening again.
Last Friday, under questioning from Journal-World reporters who filed freedom of information requests to gain access to records, Police Chief Tarik Khatib finally divulged some details of the investigation that stemmed from an anonymous tip he received last May that officers were fixing speeding tickets in exchange for Kansas University basketball tickets.
According to Khatib, the federal investigation found one officer had a long-term friendship with the athletics department employee for whom at least six traffic citations were fixed between 2000 and 2009 — before Khatib succeeded Ron Olin as Lawrence police chief. Khatib said a second officer was asked two or three times by the first officer for assistance in fixing a ticket and “may have been the beneficiary of KU tickets through the first employee.” The other tickets were fixed by asking officers to void or not issue speeding tickets, but those officers did not “knowingly” receive anything in return, the chief said.
City leaders have said the individual whose speeding tickets were dismissed was a former Kansas Athletics Inc. employee now serving time in federal prison for his role in the broader KU scandal involving $2 million in basketball and football tickets from 2005 to 2010.
Khatib and City Manager David Corliss said the investigation involved a violation of the city’s “gratuity policy” and indicated they didn’t expect criminal charges to be filed. The FBI also decided against pursuing federal charges for bribery or other offenses.
Still, questions persist. What hoops must be jumped through to get a speeding ticket tossed out? Are there no checks and balances or audits to determine what happened to a ticket that caused it to simply go away? And, if others are involved, will they not be punished?
Beyond the question of major ethical lapses, the ticket fixing case has other ramifications. Now, District Attorney Charles Branson is determining whether the violations of the two officers are relevant to any pending or past criminal cases in which they were involved. This will cost the DA’s office time and resources.
Lawrence city and police leaders apparently want to handle this as an internal department matter, but unless they answer questions about how the ticket-fixing occurred and why it won’t happen again, they risk losing the public’s trust.