Los Angeles police brace for the Academy Awards

Preparing for the Oscars
Security personnel gather outside the Dolby Theatre amid preparations for Sunday’s Oscars ceremony. Los Angeles police spend months planning with private security, the FBI and various city agencies for scenarios ranging from a terrorist attack to party crashers.
(Al Seib, Los Angeles Times)

It takes a small army to get Hollywood Boulevard ready for its biggest party of the year: Streets are closed. Lights are set up. Rain canopies are brought in (just in case).

But it’s not just the film industry that must be red-carpet-ready. The Academy Awards is the most high-profile event Los Angeles police handle each year.

Police spend months planning with private security, the FBI and various city agencies for scenarios ranging from a terrorist attack to party crashers.

“The glitz and glam is kind of gone for me now,” said Cmdr. Dennis Kato, LAPD’s incident commander for this year’s ceremony. “It’s a lot of work.... A big event like the Academy Awards could be a high-value target. It’s a big statement because it’s live on national television and there are a number of stars.”


Security at the Academy Awards increased after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and remains the most intense of all L.A.'s red-carpet events, Kato said. Hundreds of officers are put on Oscars detail, with specialized bomb technicians, hazmat teams and canine units. Authorities gather information about who might show up at the ceremony, culling social media for clues about would-be party crashers or protesters.

Some officers go undercover the day of the event; others monitor the spectators. A few don tuxedos and evening gowns to join the Academy’s private security inside the Dolby Theatre.

Image, Kato said, is everything.

“The Academy is very cognizant of what they want that to look like,” he said. “You’ll never see a uniformed officer on that screen.”


Outside, officers use mirrors to check underneath limousines that deliver celebrities to the red carpet. The limos are then parked in a secured lot at the Hollywood Bowl until it’s time for the after-parties.

The stars also go through security — even those on the A-list. Before stepping onto the red carpet, they are searched in a covered tent, out of view of the cameras.

“They’re getting wanded, getting patted down, even purses get checked,” Kato said. “Not even they’re exempt.”

Celebrity stunts are sometimes a concern — such as last year, when comedian-actor Sacha Baron Cohen came to the ceremony in character, and spilled what he claimed was an urn of ashes onto Ryan Seacrest. Though the Academy’s private security mainly patrols inside the theater, sometimes the LAPD must intervene.

“On occasion, not very frequently, we have escorted celebrities or people out of the venue,” said Sgt. Robert McDonald, who spent about 20 years working the ceremony as part of the LAPD’s Hollywood Division. “But generally they’re not placed under arrest, they’re just asked to leave.”

Kato said police typically make about 10 arrests each year, most for trespassing interlopers.

“They’ll have tuxedos on, fake credentials,” said Sgt. Mark Ro. “They’re definitely willing and able to go through the extra steps.”

Officers are given strict instructions not to partake in the event — no pictures with celebrities, no autographs. Kato said those who don’t meet the standards are dismissed from the detail.


“They can’t be looky-loos,” McDonald said. “They’re not there to stargaze.”

On Thursday morning, LAPD officials met with private security representatives, federal officials and firefighters to review their plan one last time: where officers would be deployed, which unit would handle arrests, how plans would change if it rained.

“Thank you very much,” Kato said as the meeting ended. “See you guys on Sunday.”

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