COMPTON — The mayor of this crime-ridden city said he wants to hire Los Angeles County to provide law enforcement and fire services because the city can no longer afford its own departments.
Mayor Walter Tucker announced Wednesday that he will seek to place the question before the voters during the general election next June.
Already Tucker's proposal has drawn sharp criticism and the threat of a recall from residents and city officials who claim that fire and police protection will suffer if the county takes over.
"The Sheriff's Department would not be sensitive to the needs of our community," said Basil Kimbrew, who is organizing the recall effort. Councilwoman Patricia Moore added: "The majority of our police officers have been raised here. And yes, they have a friendly kind of attitude with our citizens, but they don't kill anyone at random, as an uninformed, unfamiliar agency might do."
Moore also said that although the city has not been "totally satisfied" with the performance of the Police Department, city officials have not given the department enough direction.
She said city officials need to find more efficient ways of running the Police and Fire departments instead of dropping them completely.
The fire and police chiefs also have spoken against the proposal.
"When you contract out, the services cannot be maintained at the same level," Fire Chief Chuck Griswold said.
Nevertheless, Tucker said at a press conference closed to everyone but reporters and invited guests, that the city could cut police expenditures, which exceed $19 million annually, by about 50% and at the same time retain jobs.
"I'm not happy to have to consider the possibility of contracting our law enforcement and emergency services with the county," Tucker told the audience. "However, like other cities . . . I believe we must do that which is safest and the most financially prudent for our citizens and our city's economy.
"I believe we must be realistic," Tucker said. "We must face economic and social reality."
Caught in a budget crunch, the city in June approved an 18% reduction in its $92.5-million budget, which called for about 100 employee layoffs.
In the Police Department, two of the four commanders were demoted to the rank of lieutenant, six lieutenants were demoted to sergeants and four sergeants demoted to patrol officers. In the Fire Department, the deputy chief's job was eliminated, along with the offices of training and emergency preparedness. Officers handling those duties were demoted.
After a public outcry, the council in August voted to reinstate some of the fire and police positions.
Tucker suggested then that the city dismantle the Police and Fire departments and contract with the Los Angeles County for those services, a proposal that was immediately criticized by other council members.
He said the city has "only seen the beginning" of the budget problems.
On Wednesday Tucker said he has met with the county and will report his findings during his public "State of the City" address at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Compton City Council chambers.
He said he is confident that the county can provide the same level of services as the city can. He said he has talked to officials at other communities in the area who say they are "very pleased" with the county's Sheriff's and Fire departments.
Tucker said he has formed a committee to collect signatures from residents supporting his proposal. Tucker must gather signatures from one-fourth of the registered voters in the city to put the issue on the ballot. He will need 10,000 signatures.
By saving the money on the fire and police services, Tucker said, his community could build up a contingency surplus.