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Interim Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel has issued an apology for a a video he participated in 27 years ago that mocks the homeless.
The 1986 video shows a group of Seattle police officers dressed as homeless people underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct drinking, breaking into cars and being rousted by police. The video is set to the tune of The Drifters’ 1964 hit song, “Under the Boardwalk.”
The lyrics include: “Under the Viaduct, where dirt is our floor. Under the Viaduct, who could ask for more? Under the Viaduct, we’ll be drinking our booze. Under the Viaduct, our sores continue to ooze.”
Pugel appears as a wine-drinking homeless man in the video.
“Even by 1980s standards, the Seattle Police Department considered this video to be insensitive and inappropriate,” Pugel said in a written apology. He said he and the other officers were “soundly reprimanded” by then-Chief Patrick Fitzsimons and Pugel said copies were destroyed, although one was retained by the department’s video unit.
“I regret my participation,” he said. “I am truly sorry … I’ve been embarrassed about it ever since.”
Pugel, 53, a 30-year department veteran, was appointed interim chief by Mayor Mike McGinn after Chief John Diaz announced he planned to retire .
Pugel said that the mayor asked him about any problems that might come up at the time. Pugel said he mentioned the video, and has since discussed it with Diaz, the mayor, several homeless-advocacy groups and Merrick Bobb, the court-appointed monitor who is overseeing police reforms sought by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“As a police department, we have much work to do to strengthen our relationships in the community,” Pugel said. “Sometimes that means addressing an ugly piece of our history head on.”
The Seattle Times has received several anonymous tips about the existence of an embarrassing video featuring Pugel and the newspaper asked the chief and department to release it on Tuesday.
However, Pugel said he had planned on releasing the video and an apology anyway, saying he had conducted a “skeleton search” of his past after being asked to step in as chief.
Pugel, who was a SWAT officer when the video was made, said it has been a topic in every promotion interview he’s had since.
Last month, a federal judge approved a first-year plan to overhaul the Seattle department, after the Department of Justice (DOJ) found in December 2011 that 20 percent of police use-of-force incidents were excessive and that officers had displayed evidence of biased policing.
Revel Smith, a homeless advocate for several downtown Seattle groups such as SHARE/WHEEL, said she was disgusted by the video.
“Making jokes about their open wounds — are they insane?” said Smith, while watching the video for the first time.