LOS ANGELES (AP) - The police chief doesn't think there's a paparazzi problem in town - not with Britney behaving, Paris out of town and Lindsay possibly in love.
Chief William Bratton belittled efforts by local elected officials on Thursday to restrain the pack of shutter bugs who stalk celebrities and capture their every public move on camera and video.
"We have better things to do than contribute more time to this issue," Bratton said at a news conference outside police headquarters. "There are currently on the books sufficient laws, rules and regulations."
Bratton refused to participate in a meeting taking place across the street in City Hall, where Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine led a 3½-hour session on problems associated with the paparazzi.
The chief dropped several barbed comments about Zine and the task force he had convened, including that it was "a complete waste of time."
Zine, a former Los Angeles police sergeant, is spearheading an attempt to regulate the paparazzi, a cause he took up when he learned it cost a reported $25,000 for police to accompany Britney Spears to the hospital when she had a breakdown.
In recent months, the paparazzi have been accused of growing more aggressive and confrontational as they pursue their targets.
"They act like a pack of wolves," Zine said. "The behavior of the paparazzi is out of control. It needs to be reined in."
Bratton said the paparazzi have become less of a problem - something he attributed to some of the area's most-photographed women leading more moderate lifestyles.
For instance, Spears appears to be behaving less erratically and
Lindsay Lohan has been keeping a lower profile and spending
considerable time with gal pal Samantha Ronson after a tumultuous
year that included several trips to rehab.
"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," Bratton told KNBC-TV.
Bratton later said the problem would be improved if celebrities who actively sought the attention of the paparazzi were to "stay home."
When questioned about the Lohan remark - which followed months
of tabloid speculation - Bratton said his sister is gay and he is a huge proponent of gay rights. Bratton and his wife recently donated money to Equality California, a group that aims to block a ballot measure seeking to ban same-sex marriages.
The chief later took a jab at Zine, saying he was wrong that it cost $25,000 to take Spears to the hospital.
"He doesn't know what the hell he is talking about," Bratton said.
Zine responded that he was "hurt, shocked and flabbergasted" by Bratton's comments about the three women and about himself. The
councilman was on the police force for 33 years and has been a
reserve officer for seven years.
"I just can't understand what motivated the chief to attack me for trying to give the Police Department the tools to address this problem," Zine said in a telephone interview.
He also called into question the chief's description of Lohan and said he had contacted the mayor's office and the civilian board that oversees the Police Department to express his dismay at Bratton's comments.
"What does Lindsay Lohan going gay or not gay have to do with
paparazzi?" Zine said.
Zine argued that a problem clearly remains with the paparazzi -
something many at his meeting concurred with.
Witnesses complained of "swarms" and "herds" of paparazzi pursuing celebrities at high speeds along winding, secluded roads, paying scant regard to road signs. A Beverly Hills police lieutenant said some photographers abandon their cars in the middle of a street to pursue their quarry; others officials said existing fines were not steep enough to deter photographers who can make six-figure amounts on a single picture and see the penalties as a cost of doing business.
Speaking to the ad hoc panel of elected officials from areacities and the county sheriff, three entertainers spoke out about their experiences being followed by photographers.
Singer-songwriter John Mayer said he is frequently followed late at night by cars without license plates that pursue him all the way to his house, not even stopping at red lights.
"You are in danger," Mayer said. "Without knowing who is following you, you do not know why you are being followed, which brings about a very really possibility of suffering harm."
Representatives from Malibu, Calabasas, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills attended the meeting, as did Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, though he said he did so to learn more about the issue.
Zine said each jurisdiction would need to draft similar ordinances to create consistent laws governing the paparazzi regionwide.
Part of Zine's original proposal was to create "personal safety zones" around celebrities to stop photographers from getting too close. Legal experts said moving buffer zones like this could be difficult to enforce but fixed buffers around an individual's house or their child's school may be more workable.
Bratton dismissed that idea of a personal buffer and suggested Zine's meeting amounted to little more than talk.
"Who's a celebrity? You? Me? By definition we all think we are celebrities," the chief said. "Nothing is going to happen with this issue. I can guarantee it."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)