SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle’s interim police chief has apologized for appearing in a 1986 video that showed him and other officers mocking the homeless in what the city’s police department this week called an “ugly piece” of its history.
Interim Chief Jim Pugel, who is implementing sweeping reforms in the wake of a 2012 U.S. Department of Justice report that found the city’s police routinely used excessive force, appeared in the video when he was a 26-year-old officer.
In the roughly five-minute clip, which officials say was part of a training video and which they released this week, Pugel and a few colleagues are seen wearing fake beards, dancing with bottles of alcohol under a freeway overpass and singing parody lyrics to the 1964 song “Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters.
Some of the officers sport blacked-out teeth as they croon lyrics such as, “We’ll be drinking Thunderbird (wine) all through the day, under the viaduct. Who could ask for anything more?”
“Even by 1980s standards, the Seattle Police Department considered the video to be insensitive and inappropriate,” Pugel, who was appointed to his position earlier this month, said in a statement late on Thursday. “I regret my participation and have professionally apologized for my role in it. I do so now publicly. I am truly sorry.”
He takes over a department that has at times experienced a troubled history with minority communities and is in the first year of a reform plan overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice to revise the use of force by officers.
The Seattle Times reported in a story posted on its website on Friday that the newspaper and other media outlets had received several tips about the video’s existence before it was made public late on Thursday by police.
Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said Pugel, who has not said whether he will seek to lead the department on a permanent basis, disclosed the existence of the video to other city officials and homeless groups when he was appointed interim chief.
“It’s not a problem but an opportunity to showcase who Chief Pugel is,” Whitcomb said. “For him it was a leadership moment.”
Police say all existing copies of the video have been destroyed, except for a single copy retained for their records.
Pugel said in his statement that he had the video released because he felt it was “important to show where this department has been and where it is going” and that he discussed it with Mayor Mike McGinn and several Seattle-based homeless groups.
Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Paul Simao