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The Trick of Turning LAPD Blue Into Greenbacks

Yeah, yeah, they’ve got helicopters and night scopes and guns that can fire 800 rounds a minute, and even a battering ram, wherever that thing’s gotten to. The original Big Blue Wrecking Crew, that’s our LAPD.

But in the mercantile jungle, they are mewling infants and greenhorned innocents. Someone has already beaten them to staking out “lapd.com” on the Internet. Someone else has made handsome bucks grinding out LAPD trinkets like the mystifying “North Hollywood Shootout” mouse pad. Even other police departments ape LAPD style, a badge shape as mutely distinct as that running-shoe swoosh.

And since the day Joe Friday passed his sergeant’s exam, Hollywood has gotten a nearly free ride out of the LAPD. Name, badge, logo appear on big screens and small--a cozy romance but an expensive one. In cuddling up to Hollywood and its big PR payoff, the LAPD probably let itself be schmoozed out of millions.

No more.

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Henceforth it’ll be LAPD if you please. High time to protect its trademark and to serve quality merchandise, making its symbols turn a profit for the LAPD as they have for so many others.

The Police Commission voted Tuesday to license the trademarks, control their use, and set up dignified shop. This is not without precedent. While the CIA is not known to have a company store, the FBI does. So do the tip-top-secret National Security Agency, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Even the AQMD markets mocking little items like cans of official L.A. smog.

The commission will be moving swiftly to deal with the legalisms and find a franchiser. I hope they think big. Chess sets--the 18th Street gang vs. the LAPD, Chief Parks the king, Cmdr. Betty Kelepecz the queen, Deputy Chief Dave Gascon as bishops, Scott LaChasse, generalissimo of the North Hollywood shootout, as knights.

Then will come the catalog, and the boutiques--at airports, Venice Beach, Citywalk. What to call them? I’ll go first. The Cop Shop. Badgers. Thank God It’s Joe Friday’s. Shop Till You Drop--Shoplift, and We Drop You.

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Three glass tumblers sit at the back of my kitchen cabinet. Each bears the gold shield of the LAPD, a few fake bullet holes and the phrase, “Shootin’ Newton.” The chest-beating barware, nonofficial goods I bought at a flea market, is a legacy of the December 1969 shootout with Black Panthers that created the Newton Division nickname which endures to this day.

The LAPD, like the Princess Diana Trust, must confine itself to more tasteful goods. This is a pity, because the real money is always in questionable taste and black humor, in the heavy-selling T-shirt, “LAPD--We Treat You Like a King,” created shortly after the notorious 1991 beating. Floating within the LAPD itself, like fraternity gear, are shirts labeled Shootin’ Newton; Rampage--for Rampart Division; Club Dev--Devonshire Division; and Internal Combustion--Internal Affairs. Virtually every command staff officer is said to have Chief Parks’ own-issue baseball cap, in blue or white, which reads, generically, “department hat.”

The coroner’s office gift shop, Skeletons in the Closet, prospers on the edgy: beach towels with chalk body outlines, personalized toe tags. If the LAPD can’t bring itself to sell “My Mom Got Busted by the LAPD and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” T-shirts, at least they can do a riff on one of the coroner’s most successful items, maybe for a robbery-homicide key chain: “Our Day Begins When Yours Ends.”

A trademark means the LAPD can stop unauthorized goods, from cheap caps to fake badges that could be a security risk. In a few years’ time, expect TV news footage of garment-district raids on shops making counterfeit Nike, Guess? and LAPD products.

A trademark means money, especially Hollywood money, for a department that seems always to need it. When I asked former Chief Ed Davis about all this, he said, wonderingly, “Who’d want to buy it?” Everybody, I said.

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Now for the tricky stuff. Is that “We Treat You Like a King” shirt a trademark infringement or free speech? Would the LAPD be inclined to sell trademark rights only to movie and TV scripts that make it look good? (Shades of Chief Parker and Jack Webb.)

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Police Commissioner Dean Hansell acknowledged a small 1st Amendment cloud on the entrepreneurial horizon, along with the likelihood that some within the department would just love to withhold trademark licensing from unflattering projects, but “we haven’t gotten that far yet.”

They will. Just follow the money.

Patt Morrison’s column appears Wednesdays. Her e-mail address is patt.morrison@latimes.com.


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