Merchandise bearing symbols of the LAPD, one of the most recognized law enforcement agencies in the world, is peddled by entrepreneurs without the department’s permission. Everything from LAPD key chains and money clips to coffee mugs and T-shirts is sold. LAPD images also flood Internet Web sites, often by people hawking department items.
One Web site entrepreneur is selling “North Hollywood Shootout” mouse pads.
Now, in an effort to protect the Police Department’s name and image, as well as generate possible revenue, the Los Angeles Police Commission is considering a plan to legally register all Los Angeles Police Department symbols, including its badge.
Commissioner Dean Hansell said the department “has been plagued by the inappropriate use of these symbols by third parties . . . creating confusion to the public and threatening to dilute the symbols that represent members of the LAPD.”
Hansell said the department needs to apply for federal and state trademark registrations so it can better control the use of LAPD designs and symbols. The five-member civilian commission is expected to approve his proposal at its Tuesday meeting.
In addition to the badge, LAPD symbols include patches, insignias and other “intellectual property.” Most of the LAPD’s specialized units, such as its Air Support Division and Mounted Police Unit, have unique insignias identifying their groups.
Those symbols often turn up in merchandise. What’s more, those and other LAPD emblems frequently are depicted in movies and television programs--sometimes with the department’s blessing, other times without.
“It cheapens the whole image of the department itself,” Hansell said. “I’ve seen some pretty tacky T-shirts and low-quality stuff out there.”
Ever since the 1950s, the LAPD has stood as a national symbol of law enforcement, for better and for worse. One of the first Hollywood portrayals of the LAPD came in the form of the radio and later television program “Dragnet,” which depicted a highly professional and efficient police force.
Even in those days, the department was protective of its image. Badges used in the television series were kept under lock and key by the department and could only be used during the taping of the show.
As the department’s reputation grew--through its own actions and through television programs such as “Adam 12" and “S.W.A.T.,” as well as many movies--so did people wanting to make a buck off LAPD symbols and designs. Because the LAPD is often the nation’s leader in forming specialized police units, such as S.W.A.T., its logos for those groups are frequently copied by other law enforcement agencies.
While other law enforcement agencies have been known to market their unique symbols, Hansell said he believes the LAPD will be the first to secure registered trademarks.
Some departments have been more successful than others in marketing their agencies. Hansell said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police generate several million dollars a year selling merchandise. New York police, on the other hand, are better known for scandal than police prowess; according to Hansell, they have had tepid merchandise sales, reaching only about $50,000 a year.
Hansell said the commission is considering bringing in an expert who, for a share of the profits, would handle the marketing of LAPD merchandise. He said registering the LAPD’s symbols could generate $500,000 to $2 million a year.
“I like it,” said Councilwoman Laura Chick, chairwoman of the city’s Public Safety Commission. “If it can be done legally, I think it’s a great idea. . . .The profit part, I think, is very interesting.”
Chick also said she has been distressed by the quality of merchandise she has seen bearing the LAPD’s name. “I saw a shirt the other day that said, ‘Stolen from the LAPD.’ I would hope that would stop.”
In the wake of the 1991 Rodney G. King beating, vendors sold another T-shirt that infuriated many police. “LAPD,” it read, “We treat you like a King.”
Higher-quality LAPD apparel, patches and other items purchased by police officers and members of the public are sold at the Police Academy by the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club, a private organization affiliated with the department. A spokesman for the club declined to comment.
Under his proposal, Hansell said the Revolver and Athletic Club would likely become a licensee, authorized to manufacture and distribute LAPD merchandise.
“The idea is for the department to have better control over its intellectual property,” Hansell said.
Hansell said the department probably would not sell S.W.A.T. jackets because of the confusion that could occur if a civilian wore such a jacket at an incident to which S.W.A.T. had responded.
At the same time, Hansell said the department probably would not attempt to prevent other law enforcement agencies from copying LAPD patches and other symbols.
“This is an issue we’ve been thinking about for a while,” said Cmdr. Dave Kalish, the LAPD’s spokesman. “It’s important to maintain the integrity and reputation of this institution.”