Every time Britney Spears leaves her house, there are a lot of people around to see it, document it and, in the case of the Los Angeles Police Department, make sure no one is injured during the excursion. So, when it came time to transport the troubled singer to the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday morning (January 31) for a mental-health evaluation, you might expect there to be a crowd. Only this time, the police scrum nearly rivaled the horde of paparazzi lying in wait to catch the latest sad chapter in Spears' ongoing public meltdown, raising the question: How much is all of this costing Los Angeles taxpayers?
According to Los Angeles Times criminal justice reporter Andrew Blankstein, who has covered the police response to Spears in the past, more than a dozen motorcycle officers, two police cruisers, several unmarked police vehicles, an ambulance and a pair of police helicopters arrived at Spears' hilltop home in Studio City, California, shortly after 1 a.m. And though that sounds like a major show of force, he said it was less than would typically be mobilized for, say, a person barricaded in their home during a standoff.
"There are forest fires that cost 1 million bucks over the course of a few days," Blankstein said. "And I'm sure they had to pay some people overtime [for Britney's incident], but I think it's probably cheaper than one of those barricaded subject [calls]."
Late Thursday, Blankstein reported in the Times that representatives for Spears spoke to the LAPD on Monday about the plan to take her to the hospital for psychiatric evaluation. After extensive discussions, the police then mapped out their elaborate strategy to get Spears to UCLA Medical Center, with contingency plans in place in case paparazzi rushed the gate of the singer's home or mobbed the ambulance. The LAPD told the paper that the transport to UCLA cost an estimated $25,000 and was carried out with the help of the department's Crisis Response Support Section, which deals specifically with the mentally ill.
LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore told the paper that 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 said the department had no choice but to "ensure that we appropriately dealt with this incident."
While LAPD spokeswoman Ana Aguirre told MTV on Thursday afternoon that she could not put a figure on how much the Spears mobilization cost the city, she also said the department's reaction was necessary, due to the huge group of paparazzi and reporters who surround Spears whenever something like this occurs.
"Because of that previous incident, where she was transported to Cedars-Sinai," she said, referring to Spears' hospitalization earlier in January, "that was the reason for the response last night."
The costs involved would include everything from fueling the helicopters and keeping them in the air to any officers who earned overtime while responding and any officers that were called in to work the detail. The helicopters were not put into special duty for Spears, Aguirre said, as they are almost "constantly" in the air above the city. "It's not like we specifically put resources in place for this specific incident.
"Ultimately, any response is something that comes from our resources, whether it's heightened or not," she added. "This is not, per se, something that is above and beyond. If we have the resources on patrol, we're going to absorb that [cost]. But it's a public-safety situation, and obviously with so many people crowded around her and her home, not letting traffic in and out, we have to be there to facilitate people moving in and out and getting her safely out."
Aguirre wouldn't go into specifics about how the department decided upon the number of law enforcement vehicles and officers that responded Thursday. But based on his reporting, Blankstein said there's a very good reason the police made such a strong showing.
"You have to roll on the call, even if you don't think it's just Britney being crazy again, because you risk a huge civil lawsuit," he said. "That being said, in terms of payment, you risk a negligence lawsuit if the paparazzi are running red lights — like they reportedly did during the Cedars-Sinai incident — and you didn't do anything to prevent it. I'm sure their thinking is to show up in force and block off the roads versus facing a huge payout."
Aguirre said the nature of Spears' fame has forced the LAPD to move in the direction of sending out bigger and bigger groups of officers whenever there's an incident involving the singer.
"Anything that has to do with her, unfortunately, is not as simple as you would think," she said, adding that even in celebrity-rich Los Angeles, there are no other stars she can think of who have demanded this type of police involvement. "It's gotten to the point where it's out of control, but we have to respond to what's happening, and we can't deny anyone any response. She's the cause of this media frenzy surrounding her, but you can't blame her. ... We're here for public safety."