Spears' 12-police escort prompts call for paparazzi limits
L.A. Councilman Dennis Zine plans to push for a measure to create a 'personal safety zone' to protect public safety.
After aggressive paparazzi forced police to escort Britney Spears to the hospital this week, Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine announced this morning that he plans to push for an ordinance that would create a minimum "personal safety zone" around individuals targeted by the media.
Zine said the estimated $25,000 it costs for police to escort Spears to the hospital was necessary to protect the public from dangers posed by the horde of celebrity photographers pursuing the pop star. He said the paparazzi was increasingly endangering celebrities and bystanders with their aggressive behavior and car pursuits.
"I don't want a repeat of what happened to Princess Diana with a celebrity in Los Angeles," he said. "We had to have 12 officers escort [Spears] to the hospital that if not for paparazzi would have been to prevent crime somewhere else."
Zine said he plans to introduce a motion that calls for the city attorney and LAPD to draft new restrictions on paparazzi, including an ordinance that would create a zone of clear space in order to protect public safety on streets, sidewalks, access points to emergency care facilities and to private businesses and homes.
"It is a major issue we have to address. We are in a celebrity town," he said. "Celebrities have a right to live in peace and freedom."
Representatives for Spears told Los Angeles Police Department officials on Monday that they believed she needed a psychiatric evaluation because of continuing erratic behavior.
After extensive discussions about alternatives, the LAPD mapped a strategy for getting her to UCLA Medical Center amid an anticipated swarm of paparazzi.
Authorities, who had responded to more than 20 calls in the last month involving Spears or the paparazzi trailing her, came up with an elaborate plan. It included many contingencies for such possibilities as paparazzi rushing into her gated home off Coldwater Canyon or mobbing her ambulance and forcing it to stop so they could shoot photos.
Early Thursday morning, the plan was executed with about two dozen police officers, a helicopter and a special team that took Spears out through a gate in an ambulance with covered windows to prevent photographers from looking inside.
Police blocked roads so she couldn't be followed. The effort, which the LAPD estimates cost $25,000, was carried out with the help of the department's Crisis Response Support Section, a unit that deals specifically with the mentally ill.
The LAPD responds to about 100 calls a day to deal with mental health incidents, said Lt. Rick Wall, who heads the unit. Of those, about 20 to 25 a day lead to involuntary commitments, Wall said.
"Most go exactly as the one last night, without the 200 paparazzi," he said. "We get calls from family members daily who are worried about their loved ones being a danger to themselves or others."
Police officials defended the cost of the operation, saying that aggressive paparazzi required numerous police officers to avoid a traffic accident that could have caused harm to the public or Spears.
LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore said it was "a shame" that scarce police resources had to be diverted from "public safety needs such as violent crime, drunken driving or responding to the ongoing stream of 911 calls."
But he said the department "had no choice but to ensure that we appropriately dealt with this incident."
Spears' hospitalization came under Section 5150 of California's Welfare and Institutions Code, which greatly restricts the ability of government officials to hospitalize people against their wills, but allows a person to be held for 72 hours.
If Spears won't consent to additional treatment, authorities can petition to have her held an additional 14 days. Among advocates for the mentally ill, some expressed hope that Spears' hospitalization could help remove the stigma from involuntary hospitalization for mental illness -- easing what is often a wrenching decision for families.
Despite Spears' celebrity, the decision to have her committed involved elements that are typical for many mental health cases in California, said Randall Hagar, head of governmental affairs for the California Psychiatric Assn. Cases typically involve a family desperate for treatment for a loved one, a patient who appears functional one moment and severely ill the next, and an imperfect legal system struggling to mediate it all, he said.
"Every family will tell you how much they fail before they can finally get a hospitalization," Hagar said.
State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), a leading authority on mental health law, said he hoped the attention generated by Spears' case could help increase public understanding of the issues involved in commitments.source