L.A. looks at restricting paparazzi


The paparazzi keep taking their shots, but not always the kind they're after. Lately it's a jab from a star's bodyguard -- or his surfer pals -- or the metallic pinch of handcuffs slapped on for lingering too long.

And more push-back may be coming.

Weary of the scrums of photographers chasing celebs at the airport, on the beach and through the streets, some Los Angeles-area leaders are contemplating tougher regulations against the people who make their living by catching celebrities off-guard.

Officials from celeb enclaves in and around Los Angeles such as Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Malibu and Calabasas are convening Thursday for the first time to discuss ways to combat shutterbugs, whose tactics have grown more aggressive and confrontational in the past few years.

Their goal is for each city to adopt its own ordinances to punish aggressive paparazzi, while keeping the rules uniform in the places where celebrities live, work and play.

"This is a response to their lack of responsible behavior," said Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine, an outspoken paparazzi critic and organizer of the task force.

Zine this year proposed a "personal safety zone" around celebs that police officials said would be virtually unenforceable. He's also floated the idea of legitimizing the paparazzi -- who are freelancers by definition -- by giving them credentials, and in turn, clear rules.

The paparazzi have provided plenty of fodder for scrutiny of late.

Last week, Halle Berry said she has seeking criminal charges against photographers who she says trespassed in her backyard to get shots of the Oscar-winning actress and her four-month-daughter. The same day, guards for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got into a bloody tussle with a pair of camouflage-wearing paparazzi near the couple's home in France.

And in June, a group of Malibu surfers fought with photographers who were trying to get shots of Matthew McConaughey on the waves.

Photographers still routinely swarm Britney Spears, including at Los Angeles International Airport, where police in June had to break up the group to allow her to pass. And earlier this month, Los Angeles police said they warned a pair of shooters to leave a fire access road near Spears' house, then arrested them when they returned 45 minutes later to find them still lingering.

Zine and other civic leaders say they're concerned that left unchecked, the aggressive photographers will either drive away entertainers, or worse -- harm them or an innocent bystander. A recent inquest partially blamed pursuing paparazzi for the 1997 deaths of British Princess Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed in France, a scenario Zine and others say they hope to avoid in Los Angeles.

Malibu residents often complain about aggressive photographers, from high-speed car chases to photographers lurking outside schools or blocking store exits, said Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Conley Ulich, who is also a task force member. Some photographers have even mistaken a non-famous resident for a celebrity, creating confusion and fear.

Malibu already has strict guidelines for film shoots, and similar regulations may be necessary for photographers, she said. In other words, the paparazzi frequently are not gathering news, she said, but rather "creating entertainment."

For the paparazzi's part, Zine's idea of registration is one the shooters themselves have considered.

"Certify photographers to work as paparazzi," suggested Arnold Cousart, a co-founder of photo agency JFX Direct. That way, he said if they get into trouble, police will know who is legit and who isn't.

Cousart said he has considered compiling a handbook so fellow paparazzi know their rights and don't exceed them. But he predicted that any broad rules enacted by the task force would miss the mark.

"There is a better way," he said. "They just need to sit down with the proper folks."

As erratic and dangerous as the scrums appear to outsiders, some paparazzi lament the lost days of shooting celebs surreptitiously with telephoto lenses. They're now within arms-length of other shooters, and stars or their bodyguards.

During the June scramble at LAX, a photographer accused one of Spears' bodyguards of pushing his camera too hard into his face. Other photographers have accused actors Woody Harrelson and Pierce Brosnan of rough treatment in civil suits; both cases remain unresolved.

Zine said he wants to solicit input from the paparazzi, but the task force's likely roster is comprised mostly of law enforcement officials, prosecutors and politicians.

Los Angeles-area law enforcement officials so far have preferred to use existing laws -- such as the loitering statute used to arrest the photographers near Spears' house -- rather than endorse new regulations.

"As it stands today, the sheriff's department is confident and comfortable that the laws that exist provide enough to ensure the safety and security of residents," said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Baca is expected to participate in the task force because he prefers to be involved in discussions about new regulations, Whitmore said.

He noted that enforcing current regulations can be difficult, as the Malibu surfer melee revealed: Despite numerous online videos of the altercation, Whitmore said neither the paparazzi nor anyone else has yet to present investigators with an unedited version that could reveal what really happened. No arrests have been made.

For their seemingly divergent interests, Zine and Cousart agree on one point: something has to change.

"It hasn't been the same since 2003," said Cousart, who said he would much rather shoot stars from a distance. But online video, which has become as lucrative as still pictures, requires close-ups of celebs and, in many cases, engaging them in unwanted conversations.

"If you don't, you're practically letting these guys take you over," he said.

Zine likened any likely solutions to enforcement measures that average citizens would understand.

"You can smoke, but you can't smoke in certain areas," the councilman said. "You can go 55 miles-per-hour, but you can't do it in a school zone. So we're not saying you can't take the picture."