Ex-cops on film sets to get new look


To the casual observer they look like the real thing: Uniformed Los Angeles police officers on motorcycles controlling traffic around action-packed chase scenes and sprawling film sets on the streets of L.A.

Gawkers and paparazzi who get up close, however, might realize something is a bit off. The stripes signifying the officers’ rank are gone, the motorcycles are without emergency lights and their badges read “Retired” across the top.

They are part of the aging, but proud and stubborn cadre of former LAPD cops whom Hollywood has relied on for decades to keep real-world Los Angeles at bay while it creates its fantasies.


On Tuesday, however, after a year of failed negotiations and building tensions, top LAPD officials announced their decision to ban ex-cops from wearing police uniforms and badges. It is a move that people in the industry warned would hinder their ability to make movies and TV shows and undermine attempts to stem the exodus of film productions to other cities.

At a meeting of the Police Commission packed with angry, sometimes rowdy retired officers and film location managers, Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell unveiled the new uniform that retired officers will be required to wear.

Gone are the iconic dark blues of the LAPD, replaced by black pants, a white shirt and a fluorescent yellow reflective vest. In place of badges are patches that read, “Film Detail.”

The city’s municipal code gives Police Chief William J. Bratton the authority to decide who is permitted to conduct traffic control and security on film sets and what they are required to wear. McDonnell said he planned to formally notify the association that represents the retired officers of the changes in the next day or two and that the rules would go into effect in three months.

The commission -- the civilian panel that oversees the LAPD and typically votes on departmental policy issues -- has no say in the matter and was only listening to an update on the topic.

McDonnell said the department is concerned about liability and image issues that arise from having the contingent of about 100 retired cops who regularly man sets -- many of them in their 60s or older -- looking like active officers.


“We are trying to legitimize the system so when someone from the community approaches a person in an LAPD uniform it is actually an LAPD officer whose training is current and not someone who has been retired possibly for a few decades,” he said.

The new duds were not warmly received, to say the least, by the retired officers and the location managers who depend on them to keep shoots running smoothly.

Richard McMillan, a spokesman for the Location Managers Guild of America, challenged McDonnell’s concerns, saying in an interview that the actions of retired officers have never led to a lawsuit.

Several other opponents addressed the commission directly, saying the new uniforms would render retired officers impotent in the eyes of the public and make film shoots unsafe. “There has to be the threat of some sort of enforcement that comes with the LAPD uniform,” said one retired lieutenant.

Kristan Wagner, a location manager who runs big-budget action movie sets, echoed the sentiment, saying, “My concerns are the car chases, the stunts -- the control we need will be very difficult.”

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who opposed earlier LAPD plans to ban retired officers from film sets altogether, said in an interview that he understood Bratton’s stance on the uniforms, but called on department leaders to work with the retired officers to create a dress code acceptable to both sides.


Councilman Tom LaBonge, however, sided vigorously with the retired officers. He called on Bratton to back down, saying the decision “is a bad step for the LAPD.”

McDonnell also outlined plans to change the way active- duty LAPD cops are hired to work on film sets. Currently, production crews pay a “wrangler” to hire such officers for jobs. The department is proposing to cut out the middleman and require crews to deal directly with the department.

At present, active and retired LAPD officers are paid about $50 an hour. Under the LAPD proposal -- which would require approval from the commission and city agencies -- active officers would be hired at overtime rates of about $80 an hour.

That idea, too, drew an angry response. Going through the LAPD to get uniformed officers who would probably have to be rotated out during film shoots that can run more than 16 hours a day would be cumbersome and disruptive, location managers said.

The city, they said, should be working to make it easier, not harder, for studios to make films in Los Angeles as the city’s one-time virtual monopoly on the filmmaking market continues to erode. For years, industry hands have grimaced over “runaway production,” as studios have increasingly shot films in New Orleans, Vancouver and other cities that offer tax incentives and lower costs.

“The level of filming in L.A. has decreased,” one manager told the commission. “Don’t take away the only incentive we have to stay in L.A.”