Wednesday, July 07, 1999
Lockland chief on trial
Statements heard in ticket quota case
BY DAN HORN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
For police officers in Lockland, prosecutors say, a quota system for writing traffic tickets can be worth hundreds of dollars in extra pay every month.
For Police Chief Ken Johnson, they say, it was worth even more.
The chief's trial began Tuesday with prosecutors describing how they think he stole money from the quota program by filing false overtime records.
They say he doctored his records to show that he had met the quota of writing one traffic ticket for every hour of overtime.
He took advantage of his power, assistant prosecutor Gwendolyn Bender said in her opening statement. He has a gun and a badge and the respect of the community. But he is, in fact, a criminal.
Mr. Johnson's attorney, however, told jurors in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court that his client is a community hero who has worked many hours of unpaid overtime.
Defense attorney William Whalen said his client was, at most, guilty of sloppy record-keeping.
He also disputed the prosecution's description of the overtime program, which he said did not require a quota for traffic tickets, only for traffic contacts.
Those contacts, he said, could be in the form of warnings, safety stops or other en counters with motorists.
Mr. Whalen said Mr. Johnson, who has been suspended with pay, actually took steps to clean up the program because he felt it was being abused by some officers.
He knew there were abuses ... and Ken Johnson changed that, Mr. Whalen told jurors. He has an extremely high moral code for himself.
Under the quota system, prosecutors said, officers are allowed to work up to 24 hours of overtime a month on traffic patrol as long as they average one ticket an hour during that period.
Ms. Bender said Mr. Johnson collected overtime through the program for a total of 11 hours he did not work. She said he took tickets from one day and spread them out over other days so he could collect additional overtime.
Later, she said, Lockland officials conducted an investigation that went easy on Mr. Johnson because he was the town's golden boy.
They slapped him on the wrist, she said of the two-day suspension imposed by the city. This investigation was nothing short of a sham.
But Mr. Whalen said the city con ducted a thorough investigation and produced a 200-page report that found only minor bookkeeping problems.
He said the real problem was a disgruntled former officer, Mark Reiber, who went to prosecutors claiming the chief was breaking the law.
Lockland Mayor Jim Brown, who is expected to testify this week, said Mr. Johnson has great support in Lockland because of the many hours of volunteer work he does in the community.
He said Mr. Johnson, 45, recently organized a fund-raiser to bury a baby who was found dead in a trash bin.
He does so much here, Mr. Brown said. If he gets convicted of this, there will be no justice.
The mayor also disputed that Lockland police use a quota system for traffic tickets. He said the program only requires a contact with motorists.
Prosecutors, however, said their investigation showed a direct link between the number of overtime hours worked and the number of tickets written.
A quota system exists, Ms. Bender said.
Mr. Johnson is charged with two counts each of theft in office and tampering with records. If convicted, he faces up to four years in jail.
The trial resumes today before Judge Fred Cartolano.
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