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Call in wardrobe

Why ban retired cops from guarding film shoots? Just issue them new, different uniforms.

September 08, 2008

A common sight across L.A. is police officers commandeering a street for a film crew. But the folks wearing the uniforms often don't work for the Los Angeles Police Department -- they're retired cops who work only on movie shoots. To the filmmaking community, this cadre of professionals is one of the benefits of working here. But to the LAPD brass, non-officers in uniform are a threat to the department's image and integrity.

That's why the department has been developing a plan to take over the work done by retired and off-duty cops at film locations and by off-duty cops at about a dozen sports and entertainment venues, including Dodger Stadium and Staples Center. Filmmakers and event organizers who wanted to hire uniformed officers would have to put in a request with a new "contract services" unit, which would assign off-duty officers who had volunteered for such jobs. In the works for at least 3 1/2 years, the idea has run into increasing resistance lately from Hollywood and labor groups, prompting the LAPD to promise more talks before acting.

The department's concern is understandable. The public expects officers in uniform to be able to respond when help is needed, but a retired cop can do little more than dial 911 and summon an active-duty officer. And everything a movie cop does in uniform reflects on the rest of the department, good and bad.

Nevertheless, the LAPD's desire to protect its brand doesn't necessitate a takeover of the movie cops' business. A city-run system would cost filmmakers more, would be less responsive to their needs and would sacrifice the expertise of more than 100 retired officers who've been filling these jobs. And if the system proved unreliable or overly costly, more productions might abandon Los Angeles for cheaper locales. A better solution would be to distinguish the uniforms worn by movie cops from those of other officers. In 1989, the City Council authorized retired officers to wear uniforms to direct traffic and control crowds on shoots, reasoning that the recognizable garb would confer the authority needed to do their jobs. Coming up with a new but equally effective uniform for movie cops would be easier than persuading alienated filmmakers to come back to Los Angeles.

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