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LAPD keeps complaining its officers are overworked. And the Los Angeles public keeps complaining there aren’t enough officers on the streets. So why in the world is the Los Angeles City Council even contemplating the LAPD making a grab to take back jurisdiction over L.A. television and movie location sets by replacing movie cops with off-duty active police? As one location manager advocating the status quo system that’s worked well for decades told me, the LAPD wants this added responsibility “regardless of their ability to adequately man or administer the volume of work that the retired officers provide”.

The movie cops are retired LAPD officers in charge of traffic and crowd control on TV and film locations. They see themselves as professionals and have even formed the Motion Picture Officers Association, with 150 or so members who have the required LAPD-issued permits to assist movie and TV productions. Interestingly, the Hollywood studios who employ the movie cops don’t want changes. The MPAA points out that retired officers aren’t subject to the same overtime limits as active duty police, so staying on schedule and on budget may prove impossible if TV and film sets are brought under LAPD control. Last year, the MPAA and LAPD agreed to start assigning a sergeant to oversee film sets and make spot checks to ensure permit compliance. But the LAPD is arguing that the rules regarding filming permits are still not being enforced toughly enough by the retirees.

The changes being advocated by the LAPD are part of its lobbying for a new overall Contract Services Section to give Parker Center control over law enforcement at major events, like sporting and filming. I’ve looked at the different sides of this issue, and I don’t understand why the LAPD wants to fix something that ain’t broke, especially when the police have far more serious matters to worry about. But now this issue is heating up before the Los Angeles City Council and the LAPD plans to start moving in the retired officers as soon as October, according to Hal Dejong, the president of the Motion Picture Officers Association. Here’s the email DeJong sent to his members and was made available to me:

To All MPOA members
From Hal DeJong

LAPD Chief Jim McDonnell has been in City Council offices shaking hands, finding ways to help with general constituent problems, and promoting his plan for Contract Services Section. He has all but won over the Council members and their staff members at this point. He and Duran have been selling the Council members on what an awful disciplinary problem the retired officers are, with Duran using the things he has been doing to us as evidence to back up those claims. The Council is getting the same impression of the retired officers that the Chief of Police got from Futrell and Rives.

We have to get OUR message to the Council members. They need to know that we are not out of control as LAPD is painting us. We need to, and our friends in the industry need to, let them know the following points:

The film industry values the services of the retired officers. Their experience makes it safe for them to do running shots, stunts on the streets, and significantly contributes to the effectiveness of their production efforts within the City. Many of these activities are specifically planned in Los Angeles because they do not get anywhere near the level of support from off-duty active officers in other jurisdictions. It is not the fault of those officers. They simply lack the experience and know-how that the retired LAPD officers have developed over the years. This industry has a $52 billion per year impact on the economy of the region. Other areas of the country are actively seeking to lure production to their cities and states, building elaborate sound stages and offering incentives to move production there. Yet much of it remains here, in part due to the support they receive from the experienced retired officers who facilitate their production requirements. The LAPD proposal will take away this experience, and substitute the same type of “crime fighter” officers that they get in other jurisdictions, who have little or no concept of how to safely set up for a movie closure .

The LAPD has embarked on a campaign to portray the retired officers as unfit to serve in the uniform of the Los Angeles Police Department. They have assigned a Sergeant to harass the retired officers with petty complaints, documenting numerous alleged infractions of the rules so that they may use those in their case to eliminate the retired officers. The truth is that the vast majority of the retired officers are dedicated, experienced, seasoned officers who truly work to facilitate the delicate balance between the rights and safety of the public and the needs of the film companies.

These retired officers have from 20 to 30 years of experience handling police situations before they retired. They also have years of experience working film locations. Those are different skill sets. The retired officers know from experience where the film sensitive areas are and why they are sensitive. They take steps to mitigate the impact on the location in those situations. A large cadre of active officers rotating through off-duty movie jobs would prevent those officers from acquiring the skill level of the retired officers for a very long time.

These retired officers have earned the respect of the production industry, which has given them de facto authority over enforcement of the film permit provisions, even in the absence of formal statutory authority.

The retired officers are able to respond to the highly dynamic schedules of the film industry without impacting the cost or level of police service in the City.

The current system under which coordinators facilitate the assignment of retired officers to movie jobs provides the necessary level of flexibility to change call times, add or delete officers, even at the last minute. The LAPD proposal would require 4 days notice. The current system often changes call times at wrap the day before.

While police patrol work is demanding and requires an officer to maintain a state of readiness to enter into a gunfight at any moment is his shift, location film work does not require such a high state of readiness. Retired officers are able to work the long hours of production schedules. Active officers would have to limit their movie job hours to avoid conflict with their scheduled LAPD shifts, court appearances, and other obligations.

Because the retired officers are not employed by the City, any lawsuits arising out of their actions would be against the retired officer and/or the studios they are working for. The actions of active officers working on City payroll would subject the City to legal liability for their actions. While the track record of citizen lawsuits against retired officers for their actions is nearly nonexistent, that is not the case for the actions of active LAPD officers.

Because retired officers are not City employees, their injuries are not treated at City expense and the City does not lose the services of an officer while the retired officer recovers from his injuries. An active officer injured on a movie job must be paid his regular salary while he recovers, even though he is unable to work his regular shifts during that time.

The City Council needs to hear the true impact of allowing LAPD to take away the retired officers and substitute active duty officers. The time is now to use any and all contacts you have. If you have access to a City Council member, go in and tell them. If you have friends in the industry who have access to City Council members or the Mayor, encourage them to go in, or at least call in, and promote retaining the retired officers. If you have contacts in the media, present the case to them. Media disclosure of the potential for increased costs to the City for this plan could result in a public backlash against LAPD taking these over.

The LAPD take-over seems to be very much closer than we thought. Lieutenant Ray Garvin has been given the direction to assemble his team within the next two months in preparation for their implementation of contract services. We now believe that the October general meeting of retired officers working movie jobs that Duran has told us he has planned will be the announcement that retired officers will no longer be allowed to work movie jobs in the uniform of the Los Angeles Police Department. We have a very short window of opportunity to try to counter this.