Four former Kansas Athletics employees and one current employee have been federally charged and two former employees have pleaded guilty in a scandal involving millions of dollars of stolen tickets from the university.
How police ticketing works, past and present
The Lawrence Police Department in April 2006 went from a system that relied totally on paper to one backed up by software, known as “e-citations.” Paper tickets are still a part of the system.
• Now, when an officer issues a ticket for a traffic or other Municipal Court offense, the e-citation is printed on thermal paper, and two copies are generated. One goes to the driver or suspect, and the second is signed by the driver and kept by the officer.
• An officer turns in the paper ticket for a supervisor to review, and it is later transferred to the front office and Municipal Court. Before the city began using e-citations in 2006, the system relied on the transfer of the paper copies — through internal mail and document collection — to Municipal Court.
• Since April 2006, a different system has been in place. At the same time the tickets are printed, software in a police car computer generates a text file that contains all of the information related to the stop. Officers can add notes after a driver or suspect has left an area. It allows the officer to safely enter the notes without any immediate safety concerns. But this also could be a potential weak point.
“Used correctly, this gives the officer the ability to void an e-ticket, for example, for a person that runs out to move a parked car that a ticket had just been issued for — and the officer decides to take the ticket back,” said Police Chief Tarik Khatib. “But, taken advantage of, this can also be used to void a ticket for a friend. So the key as we examine what to do next is to somehow retain some flexibility and discretion for those doing the right thing, and at the same time look into increasing oversight.”
• At the end of the shift, officers log in to a report transfer program, and all citations on the computer are automatically sent to a network drive. At this point officers have no way to stop the citation from being transferred. They end up in a database file that is generated to be transferred into the Municipal Court records system every few days or less.
How six speeding tickets were fixed in the recent scandal (under both the old and new systems)
Khatib said an internal investigation revealed one of three methods was used to dismiss the six speeding tickets from 2000 to 2009 for an officer’s friend:
• The officer who issued the citation was asked by another officer as a favor to write “void” across the front of the copy that goes to Municipal Court.
“It’s like it never happened. It’s an extension of me pulling you over and giving you a break,” Khatib said.
• The ticket was already turned in but again as a favor from another officer the issuing officer or another officer asked a prosecutor to dismiss the ticket, for example by saying it included an error.
• During a vehicle stop — before a ticket was written — the issuing officer was called by another officer and asked to not write a ticket.
A review of city policies is planned following a recent scandal in which a former Kansas University athletics official provided men’s basketball tickets to at least one police officer and also benefitted from the dismissal of speeding tickets.
But Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib said in an interview last week that his department became less vulnerable to ticket-fixing problems in 2006 with the introduction of electronic ticketing.
Regardless, Khatib said city officials would thoroughly examine the system.
Last month, one police officer was suspended and then resigned after it became public that six speeding tickets were dismissed during a nine-year period in exchange for KU basketball tickets. Another officer also has been suspended.
The officer who resigned was a longtime friend of the former KU athletics official. City officials have said the athletics official provided basketball tickets to the officer, who either had dismissed or asked fellow officers to dismiss six speeding tickets that the athletics official had amassed.
“It’s a reasonable system we have in place,” Khatib said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to review the whole thing from top to bottom and set up an environment that has less opportunity to do that.”
City Manager David Corliss said he has ordered a full review in coming months of the city’s policy for tracking dismissed tickets. It will cover the police department as well as Municipal Court and other city departments.
“I just want to look and see what other communities are doing and see if we can’t improve not only the actual practice but also the transparency,” Corliss said.
Of the six speeding tickets that were dismissed as part of the recent scandal, four were issued between 2000 to 2005 under the old system. The last two were issued in 2008 and 2009.
The department went to e-citations in 2006 because it was accepted as a best practice in the industry, Khatib has said. Khatib was a longtime supervisor in the department before he was elevated to interim chief in 2010, taking over for retiring Police Chief Ron Olin. Khatib was selected as permanent chief in February 2011.
The newer system makes it more difficult to fix a ticket, Khatib said, but it can still happen.
“The electronic ticketing system made it easier because you have checks and balances,” he said. “You get a paper copy that goes into the system, and you have an electronic copy that goes in. That’s a pretty good system, but people can still make the choice to bypass the system.”
He said the city’s review would try to find fixes for any possible weak points in the system.
Last May, following an anonymous complaint, an internal investigation was launched, followed by a federal investigation into allegations speeding tickets were dismissed.
The city has 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 ticket scandal.
A federal judge last year sentenced four former Kansas Athletics Inc. employees — Ben Kirtland, Rodney Jones, Charlette Blubaugh and Kassie Liebsch — and one department consultant, Tom Blubaugh, to federal prison. They were involved in scam that involved cash for athletics tickets that operated from 2005 to 2010 and cost KU more than $2 million in football and basketball tickets.
City officials have said one police officer had a friendship dating to the late 1990s or early 2000s with the former athletics official who had access to basketball tickets. The officer received free, discounted or special access to athletic events over several years. The athletics official did ask for help with various speeding tickets.
The officer who resigned asked the officer who remains on suspension two or three times for help in fixing a ticket. The officer who helped “may have been the beneficiary of KU tickets through the first employee,” according to a Feb. 24 statement Khatib provided about the investigation. The other speeding tickets were fixed by asking officers who issued or were about to issue a ticket to void it or not issue it, but those officers did not knowingly receive anything in return, Khatib said.
At the city’s request, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigated the case and decided against filing federal charges of bribery or other offenses, but Khatib said the conduct violated the city’s gratuity and solicitation policies.
City officials have not identified the two officers, but City Attorney Toni Wheeler has confirmed that a personnel investigation was complete regarding Sgt. Matt Sarna, who resigned from the department Feb. 24. The internal investigation regarding the second suspended officer is ongoing.
The city has provided the officers’ names to District Attorney Charles Branson so prosecutors can determine what, if any, effect the situation would have on criminal cases in which the officers served as witnesses. Prosecutors would be required to notify defense attorneys in pertinent cases about any potential exculpatory evidence.
Branson said last week prosecutors were still reviewing their files.
“I do not have a timeline for when the review will end,” Branson said.
City review, ethics policies
Khatib said the ticket scandal has affected the entire police department.
“That was bad news for the community, but that person was dealt with,” Khatib said. “I think you have to look at not necessarily what happened but how we’re handling it.”
He said that during his 18 months as interim and permanent chief, he has stressed to employees what the public’s expectations of them are.
“I want to reinforce that officers are out there doing their jobs, and I don’t want people to put this on them. They’re the officers that are out there doing this every day. People that are culpable in this are going to be held accountable, and if anybody deserves any negativity, that is me, the chief of police,” Khatib said. “I should be the one that takes the blame for that, not the officers who are out there every day doing their job.”