Just as California is offering new tax credits to keep film and television productions in the state, the Los Angeles Police Department may be driving them out of the city.
As part of a department effort to ban retired cops from wearing their mothballed LAPD uniforms when they work security on shoots around town, the department wants to form a new division to oversee off-duty active cops hired for private security work.
Administrative costs would be passed on to the production companies they work for. There would be a 14 percent administrative charge for each cop hired, as well as an $118 fee for every filming permit, to cover the cost of inspectors’ making sure terms of each permit are not violated, First Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell told the City Council’s Public Works Committee this month.
Last year, 7,200 such permits were issued, which would have cost film companies $849,600.
Location managers, who have worked with retired cops in their active-duty uniform for decades, say the change would swell production budgets enough for studios and independent producers to reconsider keeping their projects in L.A. — a looming shift that comes as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is predicting a $530 million budget deficit for the coming fiscal year and as many as 2,800 layoffs.
“The system we have now works,” said Mike Fantasia, a veteran location manager working on one of the few studio tent-pole films now preparing to shoot in L.A. for a 2010 release. “Would this change, in itself, cause the production to move? No, but it’s one more disincentive that adds to the high cost of shooting here versus shooting in Long Beach, Hawthorne, Michigan, upstate New York, wherever.”
Under its proposal, the LAPD would create a “contract services section” of more than a dozen officers to manage the hiring of active, off-duty cops for private security jobs.
First Assistant Chief McDonnell told the Public Works Committee that he was “not looking to eliminate retired officers from film jobs,” nor was he “looking in any stretch to chase away jobs.”
Rather, he said the new program was designed to ensure the “image, credibility and brand” of the LAPD while giving production companies the option of hiring active cops in their duty uniform along with retired cops in a generic security outfit.
Fantasia, who has worked on such films as “Jerry McGuire,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Seabiscuit” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” estimated that under the LAPD’s proposal, security costs for 40 days of shooting on his current project could increase by no less than $215,000 and by as much as $416,000, depending on the hourly rate for cops set by the LAPD.
Typically, retired cops earn $49.66 an hour for each of the first eight hours, compared with the proposed rate for an active cop at a time-and-a-half hourly rate of $69.86.
“These are huge numbers,” he said. “They are the kinds of additional costs that make folks think of going out of town.”
It’s unclear whether the plan will go into effect — or if it does, when.
While City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, chairman of the Public Works Committee, told McDonnell that the proposal would probably not win in a full council vote, McDonnell told TheWrap that Chief William J. Bratton does not believe he needs Council approval to implement the changes.
McDonnell said the department has asked City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to rule on whether Bratton can act unilaterally, without Council approval. Nick Velasquez, a spokesman for DelGadillo, confirmed the request but said he could not comment further.
“I don’t believe this is a City Council issue,” McDonnell said. “It’s the chief of police who decides who wears the uniform.’’
Rosendahl, whose district includes Pacific Palisades, Brentwood and West Hollywood, told TheWrap that if Delgadillo sides with the department, he would call him before the Public Works Committee “for a discussion.”
He added that he recently attended an international convention of location managers in Santa Monica and grew despondent over the reality that “40 other states and foreign countries are putting our industry at a competitive disadvantage.”
As part of fighting back, he said, retired officers help because they “are more experienced, more flexible with their time and cheaper” than their off-duty, active counterparts.
Rosendahl, however, conceded that the uniform was a difficult issue. While location managers say a security officer in an LAPD uniform provides an inherent gravitas and ease of operation when production companies are clogging neighborhoods and city streets, Rosendahl said he sympathized with the department’s objection to anyone but active cops wearing the uniforms.
“I was in the military,” he said. “Like many veterans, we don’t let veterans wear the military uniform. It’s personal. It’s also political.”
Mayor Villaigarosa, one of several high-profile Democrats contemplating a run for governor next year, has not publicly expressed an opinion on the issue, apparently caught between two important constituencies — cops and ex-cops. A message left with his office seeking comment was not returned.