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Compton owes L.A. Sheriff’s Department $5.7 million

June 16, 2010 | 12:46 pm

Compton owes the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department $5.7 million for law enforcement services and another $100,000 in late fees for failing to pay its bill, authorities said.

Compton's financial problems come as city officials announced plans to eliminate its contract with the sheriff's department and form its own police force. The city has already squared away almost $20 million for startup costs.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Compton has ignored verbal and written requests from the department for payment. Of the more than three dozen cities that contract law enforcement services from the sheriff's department, Compton is the only one accruing late fees, Whitmore said.

Compton officials acknowledged that the city owes the money and will pay up, blaming the holdup on poor communication within the city bureaucracy. They also said the financial flap with the sheriff's department would not affect their plans of forming their own police agency.

Compton disbanded its local police force 10 years ago amid startlingly high violent crime rates and tensions between elected officials and the old Compton PD. Ever since, it has contracted with the LASD for law enforcement services.

Compton City Council members voted earlier this month to authorize the formation of an independent local police force, hoping to return a sense of pride and accountability to the city.

"We do owe them money, and we will be paying," said city manager Charles Evans. "It will have no impact on our ability to operate, run and maintain an effective police department, and we will do that."

Council members Yvonne Arceneaux and Willie Jones said the debt's existence had not been brought to the council's attention.

Critics of resurrecting the Compton PD say the debt puts in doubt the city's ability to complete the gargantuan task of forming its own police department.

"The elected leaders in the city of Compton are incompetent," said community activist Joyce Kelly. "I don't understand how we owe the sheriff millions of dollars, and there's still millions of dollars in holding to bring back the Compton police."

The debt dates to November and includes general deputy services, along with extras, like presences at the city's Christmas parade and other events. Late fees start to be applied after a two-month grace period, amounting to about 10% of the debt annually.

Whitmore said the department's concern existed before city officials voted to form their own police department.

"It's getting to the point where we are starting to get concerned," he said. "This is extremely rare to be this behind…, No other city, not even close."

-- Robert Faturechi and Sam Allen