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Cops on Location

Police Chief Daryl F. Gates wants to change the way Los Angeles regulates police officers who help motion-picture and television film crews on location on city streets and other public sites.

Although the officers at film sites wear Los Angeles Police Department uniforms and often arrive on the job riding motorcycles, most are not LAPD motor officers. More important, the ones who are part of the regular police force are not officially on duty for the city when working with film crews. Few Los Angeles residents know that, as the TV and movie industry grew and moved its work from sound stages and back lots to public sites, an informal network of private entrepreneurs evolved to help provide security and traffic control for film locations.

These police coordinators or agents, known informally as “wranglers,” arrange traffic-control jobs for off-duty or retired officers by notifying them when their services are needed at a filming site. In exchange the officers--who are currently paid a minimum of $17.48 per hour for an eight-hour day, the same as a middle-grade LAPD officer gets--pay a fee to the coordinator, as do the film companies. Some police coordinators have made a very profitable business out of providing this service, and are resisting Gates’ proposal to change the way things are done.

Gates and other city officials are concerned that unregulated film-site police officers pose a potential liability and public-relations problem for the city. They cite instances in which officers have allowed filming to continue past the time allowed under city film permits. They also note that some of the officers’ activities, like wearing LAPD uniforms while off duty or putting police lights on private motorcycles, are of questionable legality.

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Film-industry officials see no need to fix an informal system that works well enough for them now, and warn that tighter LAPD control of film-site officers could add to production costs. But tighter regulation might actually save money by forcing film companies to assess their security needs more carefully and in some instances use private security guards rather than trained police officers when that would be more appropriate.

Gates’ proposal is also in line with the policy followed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which has not caused film companies undue hardship. The Police Commission and the City Council should go along with the chief and bring film-site officers under tighter city control.


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