MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
Thanks to the paparazzi, those of us who care can always know where celebrities like Britney Spears are partying or shopping or doing less savory things. But the paparazzi's pursuit of their targets can endanger the celebrities and the public.
NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates got a firsthand look at the chase and she reports now on a proposal to curtail it.
(Soundbite of siren)
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: When Britney Spears had a recent medical crisis in her mansion overlooking Beverly Hills, it took a dozen motorcycle officers and a police helicopter to escort the troubled singer's ambulance to the hospital.
The police were needed to breach the wall of paparazzi that had crowded the entrance to Spears' gated community.
L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine, himself a former cop, was appalled.
Councilman DENNIS ZINE (Los Angeles City): I was a motorcycle supervisor for many years. In my nearly 40 years with the LAPD, we've never had to do that — never.
BATES: Zine was speaking to reporters in a council chamber as he prepared to introduce a motion that some people are calling the Britney bill. It would require that paparazzi leave what Zine calls a personal safety zone around their celebrity quarry.
Councilman ZINE: What we're saying is you're not going to go on the road and block traffic. You're not going to be parallel to a car that's driving down the street at night and take flash photography and blind the driver and have the driver crash.
BATES: He hasn't ironed out the specifics, but what Zine is hoping to avoid is an American version of the death of Diana, princess of Wales in 1997.
Shallom Berkman says it's about time someone crack down on the paparazzi.
Mr. SHALLOM BERKMAN (Co-Founder, Urth Caffe): It's almost like a siege. They just run in and they're out before you know it. And they don't look or care what they're doing. They could trample down a small child or knock into someone with a coffee. They're very destructive; they're very dangerous.
BATES: Berkman is the co-founder of the Urth Caffe, a celebrity magnet in West Hollywood. Celebs come for Urth's organic coffees and to watch the passing scene from the cafe's patio, which paparazzi often intrude upon.
Berkman recalls what happened one day when Lindsay Lohan stopped by for coffee.
Mr. BERKMAN: One of the cars pulled up into our handicapped spot driving about 30 mph, slamming on the breaks, only feet away from people sitting, enjoying themselves. That's right.
BATES: The number of paparazzi in L.A. has grown exponentially in the last couple of years, largely because of the money that can be made on an exclusive shot. That famous photo of Britney shaving her head allegedly got $350,000, which might explain some of the illegal behavior paparazzi used to get their shots.
Harvey Levin is executive producer of TMZ, a Web site and TV show that produces celebrity gossip and news. Levin says the hope of striking it rich is as powerful allure today as it was 150 years ago.
Mr. HARVEY LEVIN (Executive Producer, TMZ): It's almost like, you know, when people went into the wild, wild West, and they heard about gold, and they just decided they're going to get part of the action. Well, that's what's going on with paparazzi.
Ms. BRANDY NAVARRE (Co-Owner, X-17): We're not interested in participating in the chases down Van Nuys or Sunset Boulevard.
BATES: Brandy Navarre is co-owner of X-17, a celebrity photo agency that has shooters on Brit-watch 24/7. X-17 has been criticized for engaging in overly aggressive measures to elbow out its competition. But Navarre insists her people don't need to act that way.
But we couldn't find any photographers should tell us that. It turns out the guys who make a living getting in your face with a camera have no interest whatsoever in talking to journalists.
AMY WALTERS: Hey, we're with NPR, National Public Radio.
BATES: When producer Amy Walters and I tried to interview the string of paparazzi lined up outside Britney's hilltop home, here's what happened.
WALTERS: Do you know this new Zine bill that they're trying to pass like…
BATES: The Britney bill that says everybody has to stay back from…
Unidentified Man: She's recoding. She's recording.
BATES: Yeah. That's some guy walking up and down Mulholland, warning his colleagues not to talk to us. And they didn't.
So we did to the paparazzi what they do to celebs.
(Soundbite of engine noise)
BATES: We followed them while they followed a tip about Britney's whereabouts.
Oh. Somebody just went through a yellow light, not wanting to get caught and a whole string of paps are going through the red light.
Look at this. He's going over the divider.
We were careful not to imitate that behavior, but it's actions like those that have Councilman Dennis Zine and many others agreeing that something has to be done and soon.
TMZ's Harvey Levin agrees. Still Levin says that there are already laws on the books prohibiting reckless driving and stalking. They just need to be enforced more aggressively when people break them.
Councilman ZINE: They should be prosecuted when they start endangering people because it is going to cause a serious problem one day soon.
BATES: Are you worried that somebody is going to get hurt or even killed?
Councilman ZINE: Yup. I think not only am I worried but unless things change, it's almost inevitable.
BATES: And when it happens, there will, of course, be pictures.
Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.
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