The Seattle Police Department released a video Thursday, shot 27 years ago, showing interim police chief Jim Pugel playing a homeless person and drinking in a parody for a police training video
The video was called "Under the Viaduct," a parody of the song "Under the Boardwalk."
“In 1986 I was one of the participants in an official Seattle Police Department Training video that made light of homelessness. I regret my participation and have professionally apologized for my role in it,” said Pugel in a statement. “I do so now publicly. I am truly sorry.”
Even by 1980’s standards, the Seattle Police Department considered the video to be insensitive and inappropriate. All copies were ordered destroyed. A master copy was retained in our Video Unit.
Pugel added that, “Even by 1980’s standards, the Seattle Police Department considered the video to be insensitive and inappropriate.” Pugel said all copies were ordered to be destroyed, but a master copy was kept by the department’s Video Unit.
"It was immature," said Pugel Thursday night, after he says he asked to make an old video public. "The attempt at humor clearly was wrong, and again I am deeply sorry for it, but I own it."
Pugel said he decided to bring the video forward after he was asked by city leaders if there was anything "out there that could embarrass the department or profession."
Pugel said he has already consulted with retiring Chief John Diaz and Mayor Mike McGinn, as well as Merrick Bobb, the court-appointed monitor who is overseeing reforms in the department Pugel said he also met with several Seattle-based homeless advocacy organizations.
Seattle's Mayor Mike McGinn's office said he was satisfied with the explanation.
"Chief Pugel brought the video to our attention when the mayor asked him to serve as acting chief. Chief Pugel made the right call to share the video and to apologize," said McGinn spokesperson Aaron Pickus.
The department's performance is expected to be a campaign issue. McGinn's opponents were cautious to react to the video.
"I appreciate that Jim was up front about this and apologized. It happened a long time ago, and I believe he has learned a lot in the intervening years," said Seattle City Councilmember, and challenger, Tim Burgess.
"The video was clearly done in extremely poor taste but I take Interim Police Chief Pugel at his word that he deeply regrets his participation. This is a teachable moment and I commend the Seattle Police Department for their transparency in releasing the video," said Charlie Staadecker, Mayoral Candidate. "Pugel should be given every opportunity to express himself in 2013 as I am more interested in how we are all going to work together now rather than holding him accountable for something that was done nearly 30 years ago."
State Senator Ed Murray, another McGinn challenger, issued a stronger response. "The video that was released today is obviously offensive and inappropriate. We can and should expect better from our police department. I know Interim Chief Pugel has apologized for participating in the video. And we must also take into account that it dates back more than 25 years and that since that time he has worked closely with advocates for the homeless to improve the lives of the vulnerable people living on Seattle streets.
"But this latest embarrassment for SPD reminds us yet again that we need a change of leadership in the department. We need to conduct a thorough national search to recruit a new chief who is committed to reform and cultural change and who has the respect of our line officers. As mayor, I will make sure we find the best possible person to bring needed change to SPD."
Pugel reached out to a number of local homeless advocacy groups earlier this week, notifying them of the video.
"They just don't want this landmine sitting out there to blow up on them, they're blowing it up themselves," said Tim Harris, Director of The Real Change.
Harris calls the video horrifying and inexcusable, but says it happened 27 years ago.
"Jim Pugel is one of the more progressive cops around and he's got a great relationship with the homeless community," he said.
Tracy Arant, 47, has been homeless for nearly 3 years. She too was offended by the video but respects Pugel for coming clean.
"He released it to show this is how I was, this is how I am now. I respect that. I was appalled by the video but the fact that he put it out there, that's a big thing," said Arant.
Struggling to overcome the past herself, she says Pugel's position over the police department is a chance at a fresh start.
"We've all got our issues. You bring them out and move on," said Arant.
Scott Morrow, a local homeless advocate, has known Pugel for nearly a decade and believes the Interim Chief has great respect for the homeless community. He also notes that the stereotypes presented in the video aren't new.
“As a police department, we have much work to do to strengthen our relationships in the community. Sometimes that means addressing an ugly piece of our history head on,” said Pugel.
We own this circa 1986 video and for that we apologize. spdblotter.seattle.gov/2013/04/25/we-…— Seattle Police Dept. (@SeattlePD) April 26, 2013