NYPD first force to dedicate divisiion to policing film sets
Police officer Brendan Divine checks the permits and facilitates the flow of midtown traffic as the crew moves a scrim frame a few yards down busy West 57th Street, where low-budget Italian-language pic “Christmas in New York” is filming.
Lately, Divine has been dividing his time between the Bronx set of “American Gangster” and the new Helen Hunt movie “Then She Found Me” in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge.
“Every day is a different location. Every day is different,” says Divine, a 16-year veteran of the force, with six in the film/TV unit.
Working in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office, officers from the NYPD’s movie/ TV unit are regularly assigned to shoots on Gotham’s busy streets.
The first of its kind, the division was created in 1966, when it was then known as the Special Events Squad, according to deputy commissioner John Battista, a former police lieutenant who once commanded the unit. Lt. Anthony Chapman now oversees the division’s 30 officers and four sergeants.
To get the coveted gig, officers put in requests and undergo interviews. “Communication is really important for the job,” Battista says. Being a movie buff? Less so. “We don’t want people with stars in their eyes.”
That’s because the responsibilities are primarily logistical: enforcing permits in which filmmakers disclose location and whether children, animals, f/x or weapons will be involved.
Protecting celebrities isn’t in their mandate, and neither is ensuring accuracy, although several police procedurals are shot in Gotham. That latter duty is the responsibility of a show’s technical adviser.
Officers keep their skeds flexible because shifts and locations will vary. Once on duty, they make sure things go smoothly, whether it’s dealing with pedestrians or paparazzi, and that no feathers are ruffled in the community.
On most shoots, there’s only one officer, armed and in uniform, rotating in on eight-hour shifts.
Productions run the gamut from student films to big-budget features; larger stunts and scenes may require traffic agents, costs that are borne by the production.
The most complicated undertaking was the Times Square shoot in “Vanilla Sky,” which was timed for a Sunday morning at first light when the area could be empty.