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Los Angeles: Hollywood taskforce investigates paparazzi stalking celebrities

Posted on 4:23 PM by Sameer Shah

Los Angeles's top policeman thinks paparazzi are no longer a problem in the city since Britney Spears "started wearing clothes" and other celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan altered their behaviour.

William Bratton, the city's no-nonsense police chief, spoke out ahead of the first meeting of the Los Angeles Regional Paparazzi Task Force, a group formed to rein in aggressive photographers who hound celebrities. Bratton dismissed the initiative as "a total waste of time".

"If you notice, since Britney started wearing clothes and behaving; Paris is out of town not bothering anybody anymore, thank God, and evidently, Lindsay Lohan has gone gay, we don't seem to have much of an issue," Mr Bratton told local news station KNBC-TV.

The Boston-born police chief, who slashed crime rates as head of the New York force, said the changes in behaviour made the task force's agenda to investigate new laws unnecessary. "We have sufficient laws on the books that we enforce to deal with this issue."

He added: "If the ones that attract the paparazzi behave in the first place, like we expect of anybody, that solves about 90 per cent of the problem. The rest of it we can deal with".

Mr Bratton invited himself on air early on Thursday after hearing an interview with Dennis Zine, the city councillor who set up the task force. He turned up damp from a workout with a towel around his neck.

"So as far as all this grandstanding and foolishness, waste of city time on this issue - and the fact that I felt aggravated enough about it to interrupt my workout to come over and set the record straight - LAPD has no intention of participating in this farce," he said.

Mr Zine insisted the issue was a pressing one, given the $25,000 cost to taxpayers - in police helicopters, outriders and cars - of Britney Spears's high-profile journey to a Los Angeles hospital for psychiatric evaluation in January.

He likened the paparazzi to "a pack of wolves, stalking their prey" and said existing penalties such as fines for illegal parking and jaywalking were toothless and action was needed to avert a "tragedy".

"Something is wrong and something needs to be done," he said, adding that "this is not a fight between me and the chief of police" but about public safety and giving police the tools they needed to keep paparazzi under control.

The task force is charged with devising possible new restrictions and is considering everything from licensing photographers to imposing "buffer zones" around celebrities.

At Thursday's nearly four-hour inaugural session, members heard evidence from celebrities, a British former paparazzo, police, lawyers and the Screen Actors Guild.

Discussion ranged from recent snatched pictures of Halle Berry's baby daughter (which reportedly fetched $100,000) to the car chase that preceded the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, to freedom of speech issues and the freedom of the press.

"Obviously when the constitution was drafted they did not have digital cameras," said Mr Zine at one point.

Nick Stern, a British photographer who quit the picture agency Splash in disgust at the frenzy surrounding Spears, told the hearing most paparazzi photographers were motivated by money not journalism.

They had "no passion for news stories, they just want to make that fast buck," he said.

Lt Mike Hines, of Beverly Hills Police, agreed. To say it is "a modern day gold rush to get that one big nugget is very apropos," he said. Due to sophisticated communications, swarms of photographers would descend on a celebrity within seconds of them being spotted, Lt Hines said. Some would rent cars, park illegally and then abandon them in the streets. The "cat and mouse game" was a "very expensive drain on our resources" and took officers away from fighting crime, he added.

After the Spears hospital dash, Mr Zine wrote a motion calling for a "personal safety zone" around celebrities that has yet to be considered by the council. Police have said it would almost impossible to enforce.

Earlier, the hearing heard from singer-songwriter John Mayer, boyfriend of Jennifer Aniston, who said freelance photographers should be licensed, taxed and required to have a prominent letter "P" displayed on their car number plates.

Actors Eric Roberts, father of Emma Roberts, and Milo Ventimiglia, of Heroes, said they frequently felt endangered or that their privacy was violated.

The task force meeting follows a recent violent confrontation in Malibu between surfers and photographers trying to take pictures of the actor Matthew McConaughey.

Officials in Malibu have since put together a group of advisors to address the issue and called on Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated former President Bill Clinton's involvement with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, for help.

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