This afternoon, interim Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel simultaneously released and apologized for a 27-year-old police training video he participated in that showed a group of officers mocking homeless people in song.
"I regret that I did it and I regret the embarrassment it caused the department and the profession," Chief Pugel said today. "Any person would be offended by it, especially those who work to end homelessness or who are homeless."
The 1986 video, which I've posted below, shows a group of Seattle police officers dressed as homeless people living, drinking, and being comically beaten by officers underneath the viaduct, set to the tune of The Drifters 1964 hit, Under the Boardwalk, but with lyrics such as: Under the Viaduct/Down by the bay/We'll be drinking our T-Bird all through the day...
Pugel is the second homeless man from the right in the opening scene, which starts 25 seconds in:
Pugel says the video was made as a joke to accompany internal training videos that update officers on issues such as how to use pepper spray or updated booking form protocols. The video was only shown internally once, he says, in 1989. At that time, then-acting Police Chief Patrick Fitzsimons saw the video, called the participants into his office, and "gave us a serious reprimand," Pugel says. "He was incredibly upset. He ordered all copies of the video destroyed."
Despite Fitzsimons's order, one master copy of the video continued to exist within the department. When asked what prompted today's whirlwind announcement and apology, SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb emphasized that there was no threat of the video being leaked to the public. Rather, in light of Pugel's recent ascent to interim Chief of the department, he decided to release it publicly and apologize. It's easy to believe Pugel's apology is sincere—he's built a career on working with advocates for the homeless, including homeless youth on Capitol Hill, the now defunct Q-Safety patrol, the Orion Center, and sexually exploited street youth. But here's how Pugel explains it:
"When I was announced [as interim Chief], someone asked, 'How can we know you'll be honest with us?'" he said this afternoon. "There is that perception that we hide the ball, but I want to be as open as possible even when it's uncomfortable and embarrassing. I will be honest. I will push information out as soon as possible unless I'm legally required not to."