Deputies search and interview suspects after a Compton resident called… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has launched an aggressive campaign against Compton's plans to reestablish its own police department — an action that some city officials view as unwelcome outside interference.
Baca told the City Council on Tuesday night that the city cannot afford to run its own police agency. His department also has made the unusual move of setting up a website that urges citizens to oppose the plan.
"I believe the Compton Police Department could come back," Baca told the council. "I also say that in order to do this with the financial stability that is necessary, you probably shouldn't do it now."
Baca said the county pumped more than $20 million into policing Compton, beyond the $17.8 million the city paid the department for its services last year. He also pointed to significant reductions in violent crime, including homicides, in the last decade.
During Tuesday's meeting, the City Council voted 3 to 2 on a budget amendment that would have allocated nearly $2.7 million from the city's general and retirement funds toward staffing the new police agency through the end of the fiscal year. But the action failed because budget amendments require four votes, halting the city's plans, at least temporarily.
Mayor Eric Perrodin, a former Compton police officer and an outspoken advocate for a local police force, and other officials criticized what they characterized as meddling by outsiders after the council voted in June to reestablish its own police agency.
"I do not have a sharecropper mentality," Perrodin told the packed audience. "I don't need nobody to tell me how to run my city. I believe slavery ended in 1865."
Urging residents to query the sheriff's record on solving crimes, Perrodin pointed out that the city was still ranked as the eighth-most-dangerous in the nation. The Sheriff's Department has solved 52% of the 25 homicide cases opened in Compton in 2010, Cmdr. Todd S. Rogers said.
Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux, who cast one of the dissenting votes Tuesday, said that although she supports the idea of a local police department, she is unsure the city can afford it.
"I'm just a little bit shaky about starting a force now and not knowing the full cost … over a long period of time," she said.
Nonetheless, the city has moved forward with its transition plans, buying equipment and interviewing potential police chief candidates.
City Manager Willie Norfleet told the council Tuesday that the city's general fund and retirement fund would be able to absorb the cost of a new police agency at the same amount it spends on the current contract with the Sheriff's Department.
But the city has not been paying the Sheriff's Department the full amount owed under its existing contract, Rogers said. The city was currently behind by $6 million, having just paid about $4 million of its outstanding balance, he said.
In an internal memo to the council in March, Norfleet, then the city's controller, warned: "If the city is unable to pay the sheriff's contract on time next fiscal year, this will be a major indicator that the city will not be able to pay the salaries and other expenses of the Compton Police Department."
At the end of the 2010 fiscal year in July, the city's general fund was running a deficit of at least $8.7 million, according to city records. But Norfleet said the general fund's cash flow would be adequate to finance a local police department.
The City Council voted in July 2009 to reallocate $19.9 million in lease revenue bond funds from a planned senior center and transit center parking structure toward police department start-up costs. Critics decried the move as improper because that was not the purpose for which the bonds were issued.
The city's position, Norfleet said, is that it can use the money for police department capital expenses. An official with the L.A. County treasurer and tax collector's office confirmed Wednesday that that is permissible if the bonds are tax-exempt.
Compton contracted with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department to provide law enforcement services after the Compton Police Department disbanded in 2000, partially because of financial issues. Compton's contract is the fourth-largest that the Sheriff's Department has with a city.
The old Compton Police Department had a reputation for corruption. In 2004, residents voted overwhelmingly against bringing it back. The vote, however, was advisory, not binding.
"I remember the flagitious mercenaries who roamed the streets, who dealt drugs and participated in murders," said Bishop L.J. Guillory, ombudsman general for Ombudsman International, a nonprofit government oversight organization. "We don't want that lawlessness back here in Compton."
Guillory, a lifelong Compton resident, cited a greater level of accountability and cooperation between the Sheriff's Department and the community.
A group of residents led by former City Clerk Charles Davis is circulating a petition to place a measure on the ballot that would block the formation of a municipal police department.