L.A. Pressuring Paparazzi

Paparazzi crowd around Paris Hilton as she leaves Koi restaurant in West Hollywood, Calif., in this Aug. 12, 2005, photo. Starting Jan. 1, 2006, the paparazzi's job may be more difficult.
AP Photo/LAT, Robert Gauthier
It sometimes looks like the Wild West on the streets of Los Angeles, with hordes of paparazzi chasing down celebrities and creating pandemonium and, frequently, danger.

Now, authorities in Los Angeles are turning up the heat on the photographers, reports CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes.

And the cost of getting a shot of celebrities such as Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton could now include a trip to jail.

This week, sheriff's deputies arrested four photographers in two separate incidents as they waited for Spears at a salon and Lohan outside a club.

Deputies maintain this isn't official crackdown -- they're simply enforcing laws against blocking the sidewalk.

"The paparazzi have grown in numbers. ... Six months ago, you would have 10 to 15 to 20 that would obey the rules. Now, you have 50 to 100 that don't obey the rules," says L.A. sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Paparazzi were out in force when Spears went to court last month, and again when she was taken to the psych ward. That, says Hughes, was the last straw for officials, as photographers blocked the hospital entrance and even surrounded Spears' dad.

Whitmore insists the public is now asking for the help of authorities to stop the madness, saying, "Basically, what were getting are calls of complaints, people that have to swerve their vehicles, people that are out for a simple with their dog, that they can't navigate the sidewalk because there's 50-60 people, they have cameras. They're moving about, they're jostling."

Harvey Levin, who runs celebrity Web site TMZ.com, says two of its fotogs were among the ones arrested and, "We were told by someone in the sheriff's department that this was by way of example -- they wanted to teach people a lesson."

Levin says his photographers are required to maintain a strict code of behavior, but others don't.

And now, Hughes points out, they're attacking one another.

"But," Levin asserts, "it's not about standing on the sidewalk; it's about blowing red lights, ramming into cars, threatening to kill people -- and that really is going on."

Bill Graham, director of operations for paparazzi Web site x17.com, says he, too, is concerned that aggressive behavior is escalating: "There's more drama than there should be. ... There are some cowboys out there and, for whatever reason, they're chasing what they think is easy money, and that's not a good thing."

Officials say they must control the celebrity chase before someone ends up dead.

"We do know," Whitmore observes, "that this kind of situation has ended in tragic results. We certainly don't want that. ... If they obey the law, it won't get any worse."

The photographers who were arrested face up to a year in jail if convicted.