12/03/2004

Arizona Cop Demoted For Cancelling Own Parking Tickets; Police to Change System

By David J. Cieslak, The Arizona Republic

The Phoenix Police Department is overhauling the way it voids parking citations after a veteran sergeant was demoted for repeatedly canceling tickets issued for his own car and a vehicle belonging to the operator of a popular downtown eatery.

William Wren, who has been with the department for 25 years, was demoted to the rank of officer and removed from the Downtown Operations Unit last month after a lengthy internal investigation, according to documents obtained by The Arizona Republic through a public records request.

During the investigation, Wren admitted that he voided parking tickets issued to his vehicle, including a citation he received last year when he was off-duty and getting a haircut in downtown Phoenix.

"I'm willing to take the consequences for that because this is the dumbest thing I ever saw in my life," Wren told police investigators, referring to the citation issued during the haircut.

The investigation led the agency to order supervisors to use a computerized system that voids tickets - a system Wren reportedly bypassed - and now requires approval from commanders, said Phoenix police Cmdr. Kim Humphrey, a department spokesman.

In addition, the circumstances behind all citations also must be investigated before the tickets are considered for cancellation, Humphrey said.

"Once this issue came to light, a new process was put into place to ensure the problem didn't continue," Humphrey said.

In an interview Thursday night, Wren said he will appeal the discipline through the city's Civil Service Commission and has the backing of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. Wren said high-ranking department officials asked him to void tickets and he was stunned to learn they were not supporting him during the probe.

"The actions I took were for the best interest in the city, the downtown community and for the good of the police department. People told me I restored their faith in the department," said Wren, who has received several key awards and commendations during his career. "This makes me look like a real scapegoat."

On several occasions, Wren told investigators he canceled tickets issued downtown because the department was being inundated with complaints from the businesses, saying parking enforcement personnel were overzealous and targeting certain people.

"Public relations is never a valid reason to void a ticket," Humphrey said. "Nobody told him he could do that, nor was it standard practice by anybody but him."

Wren, who had the authority to void parking tickets, canceled at least eight citations issued last year to A.J. Sulka, managing partner of Majerle's Sports Grill in downtown Phoenix.

"The biggest thing was a safety issue, and sometimes parking at night downtown isn't the safest thing. Bill was concerned for me and other downtown business owners," Sulka said Thursday night. "This wasn't a quid pro quo deal and I think Bill's getting a bad rap."

After Sulka was cited for parking in a restricted area outside the restaurant, he gave the citations to another downtown business manager who turned them over to Wren for cancellation, records show.

The other business owner, identified by police as Eric Ansel, owner of Art's Fisheries and the Rocky Point Shrimp Association in downtown Phoenix, told investigators that Wren also voided citations issued to an employee and a customer at Ansel's businesses and his mother.

Though Wren and other officers work off-duty as security guards at Ansel's businesses, both Ansel and Wren told investigators that the relationship did not play a role in the ticket cancellations.

Ansel did not return phone calls seeking comment. Neither Sulka nor Ansel faced legal consequences for their actions.

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