June 27, 2011 -- Sirens screech, motorcycles block intersections, and black SUVs cut through congested streets amid the flashing lights of police cars.
Motorcades such as this are a common disruption to commuters in Washington, D.C., where the president, vice president and foreign diplomats are whisked through the capital city every day.
But when it was revealed last week that D.C.'s Police were blaring sirens and blocking roads for celebrities like Charlie Sheen and Jay-Z, drivers – and officials – were less than thrilled.
"We can't afford to have taxpayer dollars spent on private events," Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier told the City Council Judiciary Committee, adding that she has launched an internal investigation into the matter.
Sheen says he was escorted from the Dulles Airport to a live performance in downtown D.C. on April 19. During the ride Sheen tweeted "In car with Police escort in front and rear! Driving like someone's about to deliver a baby! Cop car lights (hash)Spinning!" along with a photo of the speedometer reading 80 mph.
The actor was running almost an hour late to his show, after spending the day in a Los Angeles divorce court seeking custody of his twin sons.
Lanier said the escort violated department protocol and launched an internal investigation and audit of escort practices.
Sheen is not the only celebrity to receive a police escort in D.C. Lanier told the council there are 17 documented instances of stars like Bill Gates, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Paul McCartney and Billy Joel being swept through traffic by police vehicles.
The officers involved in the escorts were off-duty and were reimbursed for their time. According to invoices The Associated Press attained through the Freedom of Information Act, Sheen doled out $445.68 for his makeshift motorcade. Bill Gates paid the same amount to go from the Washington convention center to Dulles Airport in November, about a 30-mile drive. In March, Rapper Jay-Z spent $1,114.20 to be flanked by patrol cars from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. while visiting the city.
But local politician, Phil Mendelson, a member of the DC city council, said escorts should only be used when there is a public safety concern or for honorary purposes like funeral processions. He stressed that patrol car lights and sirens should be reserved for a select few circumstances.
"It's pretty clear to me that lights and sirens should be rare, in fact, I would say extremely rare," Mendelson said. "There was nobody that said lights and sirens were authorized for Charlie Sheen."
But the nation's capitol is not the only city police force that has vaced controversy over police escorts for celebrities.
In New York, the city police faced criticism in April after allegations that a police van escorted Sean "P.Diddy" Combs for one city block after his concert.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg initially said there was no reason for police to give him special treatment.
"The bottom line is the police department should treat everybody exactly the same. If you don't get a police escort, P. Diddy shouldn't," Bloomberg said, according to a CBS New York report.
Bloomberg later said the incident was not worth the "great brouhaha" and "Maybe that was the appropriate thing – I'll leave that up to the police commissioner when he does an investigation," CBS reported.
The New York Police Department would not respond to ABC inquiries about the incident.
And what about the city of angels? Home of so many celebrities? A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department said do not officially sanction any police escorts for celebrities. But the LAPD does provide an escort when the president is in town and will escort England's royal couple during their upcoming visit to Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Times reported in 2008 that LAPD sent more than a dozen motorcycle officers, two police cars and a helicopter to transport pop star Brittany Spears from her home to the UCLA Medical Center.
The LAPD spokesperson said the security detail was necessary to push through the throng of paparazzi lining the streets outside Spears' house. The helicopter, she said, was to monitor any issue that might arise.
"It wasn't a celebrity escort," the spokesperson said. "We don't do that."
In a video produced by ESPN Los Angeles, members of the UCLA Bruins basketball team described how police officers closed down Highway 405 to clear their way to the airport in March.
Los Angeles Highway Patrol could not be reached for comment.