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Police Dept. Phaseout Begins in Compton

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The day after the Compton City Council voted to disband its Police Department, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials moved into police headquarters Wednesday and announced intentions to help revive that city and aid in anti-crime efforts in neighboring communities.

Not everyone, though, was happy about the change, which is expected to be completed in September. So, Sheriff’s Capt. Chuck Jackson, a 28-year veteran overseeing the transfer of power, said one of his biggest tasks will be to help heal political rifts over the plan.

“Once the Sheriff’s Department provides law enforcement, the economy of Compton is going to start to turn around,” Jackson said at his new Compton office. “Businesses are going to come back here, and the city is going to be able to provide more and more improvements. We’re going to reclaim this city and make it safe.”

But Jackson, whose last post was supervising inmates’ entrance into the county jails, has his work cut out for him in Compton, a city with 93,000 residents and more than its share of violent gang problems.

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Soon after Jackson spoke, a handful of protesters appeared outside the police station and adjacent City Hall, accusing the Compton council of violating the City Charter when it voted 3 to 1 Tuesday night to contract with the Sheriff’s Department. Protesters said they will seek an injunction next week to stop the planned September takeover of law enforcement in the city, which they portray as Mayor Omar Bradley’s revenge against police officers who unsuccessfully sought to have him recalled last year. Until the takeover, Compton police will continue to patrol the streets.

Compton Police Capt. Percy Perrodin, a Bradley foe who was placed on administrative leave last summer, said he will also seek an injunction against the change.

“The sheriff will not come in here. I can bet my life on that,” said activist Lorraine Cervantes, an outspoken critic of the contract. “This is a total abuse of power. The council didn’t consider the citizens at all.”

City officials countered that they voted to become the 41st and most expensive contract city patrolled by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and that the council’s actions were legal. Bradley has denied any vengeful motive and says the Sheriff’s Department will better protect the city.

“There is a climate in our community. . . . It has made murder, attempted murder, death by the hands of another not only a happening but it has now become a tradition,” Bradley said, noting that Compton has had eight homicides in 10 days. “The value of human life is greater than the City Charter.”

The $12.3-million contract, subject to annual renewal, makes Compton only the third city in the county in more than two decades to disband its force in favor of the 8,500-strong sheriff’s force. Nearby Lynwood signed up in 1977 and Hawaiian Gardens joined in 1997.

Jackson, the sheriff’s liaison, said his Compton force also will give the sheriff a stronger presence in surrounding unincorporated areas also policed by the department and allow investigators to focus on crime trends throughout the region.

“Right now, Compton is an island unto itself,” Jackson, 53, said. The contract will allow for better coordination of law enforcement efforts from Lakewood to Carson to Lynwood, he said.

“You can quash a problem in one neighborhood, and most likely it’s going to move into another,” said Capt. John Radeleff, who oversees the Sheriff’s Department’s contract law enforcement bureau.

Compton city spokesman Frank Wheaton said that regional policing is “the wave of the future” and that the change will provide more officers on the streets and more sophisticated gang, narcotics and homicide enforcement while shaving $7 million per year off the city’s $20-million law enforcement budget. The savings will be spent on street improvements, youth programs and community development, Wheaton pledged.

The first order of business, Jackson said, is to bring down the skyrocketing murder rate and address the city’s gang and drug problems. To do that, sheriff’s officials said they will make the deputies a more visible presence on the street and will institute intervention programs aimed at troubled youths and their families.

Another priority, Jackson said, is healing the rift in the community over the law enforcement issue. In the past few months, City Council meetings have been marked by protests and screaming matches about the proposed switch. Two weeks ago, Bradley tried to physically attack a rival who accused him of disbanding the department as a vendetta against the police union, which previously had passed a vote of no confidence in the mayor.

“We are going to get away from politics and get down to business. We are going to have to gain the community’s trust,” Jackson said, noting that he has spoken with a number of religious leaders and plans to hold town hall meetings with residents groups that request them.

Although some residents and community activists say they hope Jackson’s goals are met, they remain outraged that the council did not put the matter to a citywide public referendum.

At a news conference held Wednesday by Wheaton, protesters heckled him.

“The way it’s been done is wrong. This should have been decided by a [public ballot] vote,” said Gladys Russell.

Jackson, speaking at the news conference, praised Compton’s police force as well-trained, but said that most Compton officers who become sheriff’s deputies will probably be assigned to work elsewhere in the county. So far, 99 of Compton’s 113 sworn officers have passed Sheriff’s Department background checks and been offered positions, he said.

In their place, 189 other patrol officers and support staff, along with additional homicide detectives, gang enforcement officers and narcotics investigators, will be assigned to work out of Compton and patrol there and in surrounding areas. Forces at some other nearby sheriff’s stations may be reduced.

In addition, Compton will become the sheriff’s first station to outfit all patrol cars with state-of-the-art video cameras that will record all traffic stops and interactions with officers.

Under the terms of the agreement, Compton city officials next year will be able to pick the captain who oversees the Compton station from a list of candidates approved by Sheriff Lee Baca. Jackson said he may be among the candidates and, no matter who is chosen, he probably will be in the city until next spring.


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