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DC Investigating Police Escorts for 17 Celebrities

Reprinted from Associated Press

WASHINGTON — District of Columbia police officials are investigating police escorts given to 17 celebrities since 2002 to find out who approved them, whether they were reimbursable and if there was a legitimate need for them, Chief Cathy Lanier said Thursday.

Lanier appeared before a D.C. Council committee investigating the use of police escorts for celebrities, moving to quell an issue that gained unflattering attention after actor Charlie Sheen received a high-speed escort from Dulles International Airport to a performance two months ago and posted excitedly about it on Twitter. Since then, some police officials have criticized the chief for refusing to acknowledge that escorts are commonly made available upon request for celebrities and other non-dignitaries.

Lanier said her department has identified 17 celebrities, including Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, who have been escorted by police in the last decade. She said dozens of other escorts — including to college and professional sports teams and their owners, Santa Claus and the Cherry Blossom Princess — have been granted during the same time. She said many other public figures, including Jon Stewart and Fran Drescher, have been turned down, either because there was insufficient manpower or no legitimate reason to do it.

Lanier said that while it violated policy to provide Sheen with a speeding police car, sirens blaring, it was impossible to craft a policy unequivocally barring police from escorting an entertainer or other non-dignitary. She cited as an example a Britney Spears concert on the National Mall that she said federal authorities deemed a national security special event, and an Indian wedding that took place on public streets and required a police escort because of the presence of an elephant.

“You can’t say there should never be a celebrity escort,” Lanier said. “In police work, you can’t have a policy that lays out every single possible event. You have to have some flexibility.”

Councilmember Phil Mendelson said the hearing was intended to clarify when celebrities are granted escorts and to firmly establish departmental policy. Mendelson chairs the public safety committee and called for the hearing after The Associated Press reported last month that celebrities including Bill Gates, Jay-Z and John Wall of the Washington Wizards were among the non-dignitaries who had received police escorts in the last two years. He said he was reluctant to introduce legislation on the topic, and Lanier said the department was working to clarify the policy.

The escorts are generally arranged by the Special Operations Division. The city is reimbursed by the entertainer or his or production company or associates.

Kristopher Baumann, the chairman of the police officers’ union, blasted police department managers for not defending the officers involved in the Sheen escort. He said Lanier misspoke when she said the ride was a rarity and that the department doesn’t escort celebrities.

“The effect of that is just poisoning the police department,” Baumann said. “If you do your job, if you follow the department’s policies and procedures and those policies and procedures are wrong and embarrassing, the idea that you’re going to be the one suffering the consequences … you can’t work that way.”

During Sheen’s escort to DAR Constitution Hall, he posted a photograph showing a speedometer registering about 80 mph and wrote, “In car with Police escort in front and rear! Driving like someone’s about to deliver a baby! Cop car lights (hash)Spinning!”

A representative for Sheen’s production company called police the day of the show and requested an escort in anticipation that Sheen would be running late. The escort was handled by officers who were off-duty and the ride was reimbursed at a cost of roughly $445, police said. The lieutenant who approved it, Stuart Emerman, testified Thursday that he permitted the escort because it was “common practice.” He has since been transferred from the division along with a captain.

Lanier has said the transfers had nothing to do with the Sheen escort, and Hilton Burton, commander of the division, said he was told by an assistant chief to tell reporters that the transfers were “completely unrelated” to the investigation. Burton expressed skepticism and said his officers were being targeted based on “flawed and erroneous information” from department leadership.

“I continue to see no rational reason for removing two experienced officials from the planning unit during the busiest time of the year for major events in the city,” Burton said.

He said numerous celebrities, including Billy Joel, Paul McCartney and Hilary Duff were given escorts when Lanier was commander of the special operations division. Lanier after the hearing denied approving the celebrity escorts.

The escorts were also criticized by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, a nonprofit police watchdog. Legal director, Carl Messineo, blamed the department for a lack of clarity.

“It is as if the command staff view themselves as privileged to dispense escort services regardless of policy or public interest. Perhaps the command staff want to be a part of the celebrity entourage or have their photo snapped with (celebrities) when the opportunity arises,” Messineo said in his prepared remarks.