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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023

When Hollywood Calls the Cops

Los Angeles Police Department homicide Detective Tim Marcia’s career as a Hollywood consultant was launched with a single word: “perp.”

The term – slang for perpetrator and popularized by movies and TV shows – is commonly used by East Coast cops, Marcia said.

Marcia felt compelled to send an email to crime novelist Michael Connelly when he saw “perp” in Connelly’s “Black Echo,” the first book in his series featuring fictional LAPD homicide Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch.

Marcia informed Connelly that LAPD officers prefer the word “suspect.” Connelly’s assistant reached out within 15 minutes, setting up a meeting between the detective and the writer.

That was 15 years ago, and Marcia has since become a regular consultant on the Bosch books. These partners in crime fiction also reached out to Marcia’s LAPD partner, Mitzi Roberts, to add a female perspective. Both of the working detectives can often be found during their off-hours on the Hollywood set of Amazon Studios’ TV series “Bosch,” based on Connelly’s novels.

Marcia and Roberts are hardly alone on set these days as the constant presence of crime and legal dramas on TV has effectively kept the LAPD on speed dial for Hollywood.

TV producer Neal Baer, known for long-running dramas “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “ER,” said bringing consultants on staff became more prevalent in the 1990s.

“Shows like ‘ER’ and ‘NYPD Blue’ really pushed TV into a new verisimilitude,” he said. “Now it’s just pro forma. The audience demands it.”

He said “Law & Order: SVU,” which films in New York, had an SVU detective from the New York Police Department on set regularly.

There is no union or industry standard when it comes to payment for this type of consulting – unlike most Hollywood jobs.

Marcia and Roberts declined to reveal what they are paid for their work on “Bosch,” although they said it might vary based on the time demands of any given episode.

Baer said a detective consultant on “Law & Order: SVU” was paid about $1,500 an episode in the 1990s, and guessed that, even adjusted for inflation, an LAPD consultant is probably making no more than that, and possibly more likely around $1,200 per episode – an assignment that could cover several hours here and there for a week or so.

“Remember, ‘Law & Order: SVU’ was a huge hit,” he said, meaning higher salaries for all involved with the show.

At your service

Compensation for police advisers fluctuates, but Baer said the growth of cable channels and streaming platforms since the 1990s means more demand for all types of contributors, including consultants. Still, as is the case with most Hollywood jobs that carry the perception of glamour, the supply of hopefuls far exceeds the demand.

“People always come to me saying they want to be consultants, and I say, Good luck, it won’t happen,” Baer said.

He noted that people in various professions popular in series TV – doctors, lawyers, law enforcement – have made the transition to writer or writer-producer, including Baer himself, who brought his experience as a pediatrician into the writers’ room at “ER.” They do not necessarily begin as consultants, however, often taking the same path as most TV writers – getting an agent by writing a script or developing a project.

An example is Ed Bernero, who spent 10 years as a Chicago police officer before coming to Los Angeles, where he landed a job as a freelance writer for “Brooklyn South” before creating the long-running crime series “Crime Watch” and later serving as executive producer of current CBS series “Criminal Minds.”

But, as with Marcia and Roberts, there are a significant number of LAPD detectives and officers being hired for their expertise behind both the big and small screens as paid consultants. The pair are unusual in that they are working detectives rather than retirees.

“Our cases never take a back seat to this,” said Marcia. “We’ve made that clear to Michael (Connelly); the LAPD is always going to be our priority.”

The calls from producers, writers and actors looking for law enforcement advice are frequent enough that LAPD has a headquarters staffer, Kevin Maiberger, who serves as the department’s entertainment and trademark coordinator.

Maiberger said that in most cases, if the question can be answered within an hour, the LAPD will try to connect the Hollywood creator with an officer who has expertise in the area. Such assistance is provided free of charge.

If that creative person needs more time or an ongoing relationship, it’s up to the officer and the writer, actor or producer to negotiate an arrangement – paid or unpaid – on an officer’s off-duty hours. Often such relationships grow out of that initial contact, Maiberger said.

Rules, regulations

LAPD officers cut their own deals on off-hours, Maiberger said, so no Hollywood money flows to the department. However, certain rules apply when Hollywood wants to shoot in real-life LAPD offices. Regulations require that active – but off-duty – officers be on set to provide security. Those officers are paid a $75 an hour by the producer, and can only do such work on a regular day off.

“This is not something the city is compensating them for,” he said.

He estimates that producers visit LAPD locations for filming between 100 and 200 times a year.

Maiberger said licensing fees are required if an entity – Hollywood or not –wants to replicate Police Department trademarks, such as badges, signage or car marks. He recalled an instance where City of Industry’s Jada Toys Inc. paid licensing royalties to include an LAPD patrol car replica in its Hero Patrol line.

The company would not reveal the specific amount it paid but said licensing royalties range from 5 percent to 17 percent of the purchase price of the item. Maiberger said those dollars do not go to the LAPD but are fed into the city’s general fund.

He said such licensing arrangements are rare for the department, but the LAPD gets four or five calls a year from police departments in other cities asking to see the LAPD’s licensing contracts. He attributes that to an increase in documentary filmmakers who want to shoot real-life cops in action, meaning a license fee for showing the real police cars, badges and other trademarks.

Hollywood’s cameras are not, however, allowed anywhere near the so-called murder book – the volume created for every homicide case – even though most would love to get a shot of it.

“We don’t want to risk a miscarriage of justice because something has been on a TV show,” Maiberger said.

That doesn’t mean dead bodies aren’t part of an officer’s consulting duties, however.

During a recent set visit, on-set dresser Eddie Tique stopped Roberts to thank her for her advice on how to make plastic-wrapped corpses in the coroner’s office look more realistic with the addition of some body fluids.

“I like how you put the bloodiness in there,” he observed, showing off the results of the makeover on his cellphone.

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