LOS ANGELES — The City Council should scrap a proposal for a new ordinance limiting the activities of paparazzi around celebrities, the Police Department says.
Calling the proposal unfair, ambiguous and likely unenforceable, department officials told the city Police Commission, which met yesterday, that numerous laws already on the books enable officers to deal with unruly paparazzi behavior.
Cmdr. Kirk Albanese said after the commission’s meeting: “There are laws that exist out there. We need to use those laws.”
The department presented its recommendations in a report written by Chief William Bratton.
The motion for a new ordinance was put forward by Councilman Dennis Zine in February after Britney Spears was taken from her home by paramedics amid a frenzy of photographers, and a phalanx of officers on motorcycles and in squad cars and helicopters was used when she was taken to a hospital a second time.
Zine said the Police Department’s report on his proposals was premature.
“They are jumping the gun on this; there hasn’t been any public discussion,” Zine said. “If they have enough rules, why does it cost $25,000 to transport Britney Spears to the hospital?”
Among proposals Zine wants the city to consider is the creation of a “personal-safety zone” that would create several feet of buffer space between paparazzi and their celebrity targets. Additional measures would likely emerge from public discussions after input from celebrities and the city attorney, Zine said.
Zine’s motion notes paparazzi can create a safety hazard by blocking entrances to hospitals and courthouses and “are becoming increasingly aggressive in their tactics, posing a clear danger not only to the people they are trying to photograph, but to the general public around them.”
Bratton’s report suggested there may also be constitutional concerns with any new ordinance. He highlighted the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under law — something that could become an issue in defining who is a celebrity or a paparazzo.
“Are all celebrities — A list, B list, C list — entitled to the same protection?” Bratton asked in his report. “The wording of the proposed ordinance may be too ambiguous to enforce.”
The Police Commission, the civilian overseers of the Police Department, voted to approve the report and forward it to the City Council. Zine’s motion has not yet been scheduled for committee review.
Representatives from groups including the California First Amendment Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union have spoken out against the ordinance.
“Any kind of law that you try to draft to cover the paparazzi will apply to all reporters. You can’t carve out a law that will apply to just the paparazzi,” said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, when the law was proposed in February.
An “anti-stalkerazzi” law went into effect in California two years ago that increased penalties against photographers who impeded celebrities or were responsible for car accidents. Photographers are liable for three times the damages they inflict, plus lose any payments their published photos might earn.