Sheriff Hopeful In Va. Says He Dismissed Tickets
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Here's something usually missing in the final stretch of a hot sheriff's race: a candidate who admits he has fixed tickets for friends of fellow officers.
"I've fixed many tickets," said Gregory J. Ahlemann, a Republican who is trying to unseat longtime Loudoun County Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson (I) in the Nov. 6 election.
Ahlemann, a pastor's son and former Loudoun deputy who promises to "restore integrity" to the sheriff's office, said he also asked fellow deputies to tear up traffic tickets issued to his friends, but never for offenses more serious than speeding.
"I would go to them and say, 'Do you have a problem getting rid of it?' " Ahlemann said in a recent interview, contending that ticket-fixing is a "pretty common occurrence in law enforcement."
Most jurisdictions provide broad latitude in writing tickets, and there is generally no prohibition against fixing them, but law enforcement officials say the practice is not condoned -- and almost never publicly acknowledged.
If elected, Ahlemann, who left the sheriff's department in January to run his first political campaign, said he will not discourage deputies from fixing speeding tickets for friends of fellow officers. "You have to trust your deputies enough to use their discretion," he said. "Because we trust them with deadly force carrying a firearm on their hip, I don't think you can second-guess everything they do."
Ahlemann, 37, opened the door to the issue in January, when he accused a Loudoun sheriff's official of fixing a ticket for a friend who had been arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, an allegation Simpson denied.
Asked whether ticket-fixing goes on in his department, Simpson said, "Does it happen? Probably, yes." Has he ever fixed a ticket during his 34 years in the business? "No," he said, adding: "Did I many years ago as a rookie? I don't recall." But Simpson, 53, who has been Loudoun's sheriff since 1996, said officers also routinely give breaks to people who have no ties to law enforcement.
Michael E. George, 54, the Democratic candidate and a former narcotics and gang-unit supervisor in the Fairfax County Police Department, said he never fixed a ticket during 22 years in law enforcement. "It's done, but it's not a sound practice," he said.
From agency to agency, there are philosophical disagreements over whether officers sworn to uphold the law should be playing favorites with each other, their friends and family members. Loudoun and Fairfax, like many localities, have no prohibitions against fixing tickets, because administrators say officers need discretion to do their jobs.
Throughout law enforcement, there is debate over how common the practice is and whether tearing up tickets, even for offenses such as running red lights, should be done at all.
Loudoun's chief prosecutor, for one, isn't a fan of playing favorites.