Two Charleston police officers are out of a job after writing bogus traffic tickets that they later dismissed in a scheme designed to pad their citation totals. That’s troubling. But what’s more troubling is the idea that they thought they could get away with it — and apparently did until a woman pulled over May 23 and given a verbal warning about an expired license plate tag got a notice for failing to appear in traffic court for five citations.
The woman filed a complaint. Both officers resigned after learning the department had opened an Internal Affairs investigation.
According to police, the officers pulled over drivers and cited them. Then, without their knowledge, they added other violations. The additional violations were then dismissed at the request of the officers when the cases came to traffic court, all without the knowledge of the drivers.
The first officer, who resigned June 14, admitted to “inflating the number tickets written in an attempt to conceal the fact that he was not actively and appropriately patrolling his area,” according to police.
Because this is quite literally an issue where the rubber meets the road, police need to come clean about exactly what was going on. Perhaps traffic court procedures need to be scrutinized too.
Yes, the bogus tickets were all dismissed, as were any pending tickets written by the two officers, legitimate or not. But one has to wonder: Why did it take a citizen complaint to bring the problem to light? How many fictitious citations were written and later dismissed?
Police Chief Luther Reynolds should be commended for taking quick action in regard to the two officers. But such a breach of public trust deserves a full public airing.
If the police department has no ticket quota for traffic officers, why did the officers jeopardize their careers by writing bogus citations to show how productive they supposedly were?
“It’s bizarre,” Chief Reynolds said Wednesday afternoon. “I hope it’s isolated. … To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement.”
Mr. Reynolds said the department has begun auditing all traffic officers and formalized written rules for dismissing tickets to address the issue. The investigation is continuing.
Still, one also has to wonder if the department went easy on the officers by letting them resign. Typically, the department’s Professional Standards Office conducts an investigation, then turns over its conclusions to the chief or the city attorney’s office to decide the appropriate punishment.
The whole affair from a public relations standpoint is not a good look — especially for one of the nation’s top cities and tourist destinations.
The chief needs to assure the public that the department will get to the bottom of this. And he should also look at how the traffic division is run to find out why officers would jump through so many hoops to falsify tickets when they simply could have been doing their jobs. After all, there are plenty of traffic violations to be found on Charleston’s streets.
Unfortunately, such actions can erode the public’s trust. And that is more damaging to the department than the misdeeds themselves.