Compton to Disband Police Force
Saying police have been powerless to stop out-of-control violence, the Compton City Council voted Tuesday to disband the Police Department and hire the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Despite protests from some residents, Mayor Omar Bradley and council members Amen Rah and Dolores Zurita said the change was the only hope of making Compton, which has seen eight slayings since June 28, no longer a battle zone.
“People are prisoners in their own homes,” Zurita said. “Honest to God, I want to feel safe in this community . . . maybe we can sit on the porch again.”
Council member Marcine Shaw cast the lone no vote, citing opposition from residents who say the decision violates the city charter and is more about politics than public safety. Shaw also pointed to unresolved issues with the union that represents the county’s 6,000 sheriff’s deputies.
But Bradley said the “value of human life is greater than the city charter . . . or any union.”
City officials said they believe the contract is legal under the city charter, and sheriff’s officials promised that their deputies union would not pose legal problems.
The $12.3-million contract, the most expensive among the 41 cities patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department, will give Compton’s 100,000 residents better service and shave approximately $7 million per year off the city’s law enforcement budget, council members said. They promised to spend the savings on fixing streets and improving the quality of life.
Sheriff’s officials said they were optimistic that deputies, expected to be patrolling the city by September, could reduce crime rates.
Sheriff Lee Baca, who attended the City Council meeting, pledged to offer employment to any eligible Compton officer. Almost all of Compton’s 113 officers already have received conditional offers of employment, officials said.
“The best officers should be able to stay in the city,” Baca said, adding, “I’m not going to have any average-producing deputies on the streets.”
The sheriff said the biggest issues facing Compton are gangs and drugs.
“The violence needs to be taken head on,” Baca said, pledging to step up gang prevention programs by working with young people and parents.
Sheriff’s officials said Tuesday that they plan to assign more than 180 officers to work out of what is now Compton police headquarters. Seventy-seven of them will patrol city streets, while others will patrol nearby areas. Additional gang enforcement and narcotics officers and homicide detectives will be assigned, said Sheriff’s Capt. Chuck Jackson, who has been working with city officials since they proposed disbanding the department in April.
Compton police union President Eddie Aguirre said “police officers are sad” about the demise of the department but excited about the prospect of becoming deputies.
“Initially, cops were against it. Most of us are proud to be Compton PD,” Aguirre said. “But the feeling has changed. A lot of the guys have been offered jobs, and most of us just want to do police work. We don’t want to get involved in politics.”
Residents who have demanded at recent City Council meetings that officials put the issue to a citywide vote said they planned to fight the decision in court.
“The mayor doesn’t listen to no one,” said Gladys Russell, who got into a shouting match with the mayor just prior to the vote. “We are going to go get an injunction. I don’t have any money, but I am going to put a little money into it.”
Bradley’s critics have accused him of disbanding the Police Department to get back at the police union he has been feuding with.
But the mayor, who two weeks ago physically attacked a political rival who has criticized the contract, urged residents to set politics aside and give the Sheriff’s Department a chance.
“When you are lying dead . . . then neither recall nor elections nor standing in the community matters,” the mayor said. “I pray to almighty God that this decision will preserve the highest thing we have been given, above our police union, above our charter . . . the protection of life.”