Faced with a massive budget deficit and the prospect of layoffs, the Compton City Council has killed its plan to create a new Police Department.
The council, at a meeting last week, rescinded last June's vote to move forward with forming a local police force.
The city had disbanded its department in 2000, amid political turmoil and elevated crime rates. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has since patrolled the city on a contract basis.
Barbara Calhoun, one of three council members who originally voted in favor of reconstituting the department, switched her vote, effectively scuttling the plan.
Calhoun, who cited the city's financial crisis as the reason, said she would also propose a ballot measure that would allow residents to decide whether they want the city to maintain its contract with the Sheriff's Department.
Former City Clerk Charles Davis, with backing from the sheriff's deputies' union, has been circulating a petition that would place a similar initiative on the ballot. Floyd Hayhurst, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, called the council vote "good news for public safety in the city and around the region."
He said the union hopes the council will put the question to Compton voters as soon as possible.
The police project had been on shaky ground for several months, despite the $1.7 million the city has spent on preparations to set up the new department, according to information included with the resolution.
The council reallocated $19.5 million in lease revenue bond funds originally slated to build a senior center and transit center parking structure to the police project instead. Because the bonds are tax-exempt, the funds can be used only for capital costs and not for staffing.
The plan hit a major obstacle in December when a budget amendment that would have allowed the city to hire police personnel, including a chief, failed to get the necessary votes.
A city financial statement showed Compton was facing a $33-million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year and had a negative general fund balance of $18 million as of the end of January.
Mayor Eric Perrodin, a former Compton police officer and the lead proponent of reviving the municipal department, said he believed the city would be better able to control costs if it had its own department. But he said he would not continue to press the issue.
"I'm a realist, and I can see right now, the majority of the council doesn't believe that's the case, so I'm not going to expend any more energy on that," he said after last week's meeting.
Calhoun is up for reelection April 19 and faces six challengers, among them Robin Bradley, the wife of former mayor Omar Bradley, who led the charge to disband the department before he lost his seat to Perrodin. He was later convicted of misappropriating city funds. Calhoun said the revelation of cash-flow problems, not the impending election, led her to change her mind.
"In 2009, there was money. In 2011, there's no money. We're talking about layoffs," she said after the meeting.
Calhoun also admitted that in a campaign ad, she had incorrectly listed Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who has spoken out publicly against the police plan, as one of her endorsers. Baca spokesman Steve Whitmore said the sheriff does not endorse candidates in contract cities.
As for the council vote, Whitmore said, Baca "certainly supports the decision the City Council made. It just is not the right time."
Perrodin said he would propose cost-cutting measures including a moratorium on city-paid cellphones for employees and on the council's $650-a-month auto allowance. He said he would consider calling for an outside firm to examine the city's fiscal situation.
"This is — I'm not going to say it's criminal because I don't think it was so much criminal activity. I think it's just the height of incompetency for us to get in this situation," he said.