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Sheriff tells Compton it can't afford its own police; official bristles at interference

December 22, 2010 |  7:48 am

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca made a public appeal to the Compton City Council on Tuesday to delay its planned resurrection of the Compton Police Department, saying the city can't afford the move.

“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.”

At the same meeting, council members failed to approve a budget amendment that would have allocated $2.6 million toward staffing the new agency, leaving the path forward unclear.

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. Mayor Eric Perrodin, a former Compton police officer, has been an outspoken advocate of restoring a local police force, and the Compton City Council voted in June to reestablish a local law-enforcement agency.

The sheriff’s department is lobbying against Compton's planned departure, even launching a website to encourage citizens to voice their opposition to the mayor and City Council. Baca pointed to significant reductions in violent crime in the last decade. Perrodin pointed out that the city was still ranked the eighth most dangerous in the nation.

The mayor took issue with what he characterized as interference by outsiders in the city’s plans.

“I do not have a sharecropper mentality,” he said at the meeting. “I don’t think anyone needs to tell me how to run my city.”

Although the city has moved forward with its transition plans, buying equipment and searching for a new police chief, Baca said he doubted the city had the funding to support an adequate police department in the long term. Baca said the county pumped more than $20 million in station-level and countywide services into policing Compton, including access to the county’s special units such as the  the arson and homicide bureaus, beyond the $17.8 million the city paid the sheriff’s department for its services last year.

City Manager Willie Norfleet told the council that the city’s general fund and retirement fund will be able to handle the costs of the new department.

“Our notion from the very beginning is to create a new police department with the same cost we’re paying the sheriff’s department currently,” Norfleet said.

Sheriff’s officials said the city had been behind on its payments by, on average, $5.7 million in the last year and was currently behind by $6 million, having just paid about $4 million of its outstanding balance.

In an internal memo to the council in March, Norfleet, who was then city 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, the city’s general fund was running a deficit of at least $8.7 million, according to city records. 

The budget amendment measure required a four-out-of-five vote to pass, under the city's charter, but got only three, with council members Willie O. Jones and Yvonne Arceneaux dissenting.

Arceneaux said she supported having a local police department but was unsure that the city’s general fund could sustain it.

“I’m just a little bit shaky about starting a force now and not knowing the full cost of the force over a long period of time,” she said.

Perrodin and Norfleet declined to comment following the meeting.


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