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COVER STORY : MOONLIGHT PATROL : Careers: Two movie industry professionals spend off-hours fighting crime as reserve deputies. In some ways, the jobs aren't all that different.

October 06, 1994|ROBERT WYNNE / SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

By day, Jeff Zacha and Rob Kenneally carry cellular phones. In Burbank.

At night, they carry guns. In the Southeast area of Los Angeles County.

Every other weekend, these movie executives peel off their business suits for tan-and-green uniforms--guns and badges in place--and head out on patrol as Los Angeles County reserve sheriff's deputies.

"Whenever I've taken a friend (on) a ride," says Kenneally, a Brentwood resident, "they say, 'My God, you were having lunch with (ABC President) Ted Harbert today and now you're eating a Boys Burger in the 'hood in South-Central after responding to a homicide.' "

Zacha, 39, a supervisor of post-production for Disney, and Kenneally, 35, executive vice president of Rysher Entertainment, met 11 years ago while training as reserves. They couldn't decide between law enforcement and show business, so they chose both.

Working part time with the Sheriff's Department they patrol West Compton, East Rancho Dominguez, Walnut Park, the Florence-Firestone District, Willowbrook and Lynwood.

When on patrol, they are miles away in distance and demeanor from their full-time professions.

Westchester resident Zacha is the liaison between filmmakers and Disney studio executives. He reviews budgets, hires editors and oversees technical standards.

Kenneally supervises production for several hours of programming, including "Robocop" and "Lonesome Dove," and seven feature films, including the upcoming Howard Stern movie, "Private Parts."

Going on patrol, they said, provides a counterbalance to the Hollywood glitz.

"Given that we both work in a fantasy world, it's an incredibly strong balance," Kenneally says. "It's very therapeutic."

Zacha agrees. "It puts your problems into perspective."

Both said they were attracted to law enforcement as young men. The interest has stayed with them.

"When I first started," Zacha says, "it was a little strange, the dichotomy, the two different worlds. Now it gels into one."

Zacha said film work and police duty both involve "the ability to act calmly under a tremendous amount of pressure and to come up with a way to resolve the problem. That's my job (at Disney), and that's my job (on patrol)."

Co-workers are impressed by their odd moonlighting.

"We always try and give back to the community in some way," said David McCann, a Disney senior vice president and Zacha's boss. "This is Jeff's way, and I think it's terrific."

On occasion their two worlds have merged. When Kenneally was a Fox TV network executive in the 1988, he helped develop the hit show "COPS."

"I was one of the people who said we ought to do a cop show and put a video camera in the back seat" of patrol cars, he said. "If people at home had the same enthusiasm as (civilan ride-alongs), I knew it would be successful."

The duo are two of the Sheriff Department's 495 reserves in the Level I classification, the highest-trained part-time deputies, many of whom go on patrol. They go through most of the training of regular deputies and have the same authority as other sworn officers while on duty. In Los Angeles County, there are 900 reserve deputies. The program attracts doctors, lawyers, computer programmers and other professionals.

Zacha and Kenneally may be the only movie executives who work Level I; they are certainly the only ones who work at the Century police station, said Lt. Gil Jurado, the second-in-command.

Century station ranks No. 1 per capita out of 21 Sheriff's Department stations in serious crimes such as murder, rape and robbery, Jurado said.

That made it even more attractive for Zacha and Kenneally.

"I really wanted to know what it was to be a cop," Kenneally says. "The promise of Firestone-Lynwood was you would be involved in felony arrests and see police work as a real policeman would."

Their wives support their weekend work, though they worry about them getting hurt.

Zacha's wife of 16 months rode along with him one night before they married to better understand what he does.

"She thinks it's great," he said. "She's very confident of my abilities."

Kenneally's wife is less enthusiastic. "When she married me, she knew this came along with the territory. If she could, she would rather I didn't do it," said Kenneally, who has a 6-month-old daughter.

In the past, the two have been in several dangerous situations in which they had to use their guns, though neither has shot anybody or been shot.

In several instances, for example, suspects at the end of vehicle pursuits have fired on them, Zacha said.

A recent Friday night proved relatively calm for this area. Still, they experienced everything from the tragic to the lighthearted during the shift.

Early in the evening, driving along Laurel Avenue between 94th and 95th streets, Zacha asks a group of men and women playing cards, "Is everything all right?" With a laugh, a woman responds: "Tell Johnny, happy birthday."

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