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Police caught in
firestorm over homophobic video

Police caught in
firestorm over homophobic video

One San Francisco police officer was suspended and as many as 20 others face disciplinary action after making videos parodying life on the force that used racist, sexist, and homophobic stereotypes, city officials announced Wednesday. "This is a dark day, an extremely dark day, in the history of the San Francisco Police Department," said police chief Heather Fong, who called the acts "egregious, shameful, and despicable."

The skits, featuring uniformed and plainclothes officers, were intended as a spoof, according to police representatives, and much of the content poked fun at the officers. A lawyer for the creator of the videos denied they were insensitive and said they were art taken out of context.

But the department's brass and the mayor were not amused. Clips made fun of Asians, African-Americans, women, and gay and transgender individuals, Mayor Gavin Newsom said. He was particularly offended by a scene showing a white officer in a patrol car running over a black homeless woman. "It is shameful, it is offensive, it is sexist, it is homophobic, and it is racist," Newsom said. "We're going to make sure that it ends--it ends immediately."

The department's internal affairs division launched an investigation after the videos were discovered on an officer's Web site. One officer was suspended Tuesday, and more than a dozen others--including Capt. Rick Bruce, who is on leave from the department for unrelated reasons--are under investigation for their alleged involvement, according to mayor's office spokesman Peter Ragone.

A special task force, the city's Human Rights Commission, and the Commission on the Status of Women would also investigate, Newsom said. The videos were removed from the Web site, Inside the SFPD, which was created by officer Andrew Cohen, who said the vignettes were produced for the Bayview station's Christmas party. "The guys on the streets have only one tool to relieve the stress," Cohen told KPIX-TV, "and it's humor."

One video, The Ladies Man, spoofing the television show Charlie's Angels, features three gun-toting policewomen in T-shirts and blue jeans reporting to Bruce, who sits behind his desk and suggestively licks his lips. Through the rest of the clip, a street person, an apparent transvestite, and several others lick their lips in a similar manner and say, "Oh, captain."

Another video, titled A Day in the Life of Hamster and Big Dummy, was a send-up of a lazy pair of officers who ignore several dispatches while reading the newspaper, napping in their cruiser, and practicing martial arts in a parking lot. When gunshots are reported, they race off with their lights flashing and siren wailing--only to show up at a massage parlor the driver had spotted in a magazine ad.

Attorney Daniel Horowitz, who is representing Cohen, said some of the content was sophomoric, but he blamed the mayor and police chief for drawing attention to the videos, which had been viewed only by police officers prior to their being publicized in a city news conference. He said his client had been slandered. "Maybe it is dumb, and if it is dumb, who is releasing this nationally? The mayor and the police chief," Horowitz, who is a well-known TV legal analyst, said on KRON-TV.

Horowitz also said the officers simply were having fun and mocking themselves. "Perhaps Mr. Horowitz is the kind of lawyer who thinks that a white police officer running over a black woman is something to laugh at. We think he stands alone," Ragone said.

A similar flap arose in June over the revelation that the San Francisco 49ers had produced a training video that included racist jokes, lesbian soft porn, and topless blonds. The football team's publicity director, Kirk Reynolds, resigned after the 15-minute film came to light. Reynolds said he made the tape to coach players on handling the news media in a diverse city and that it was never meant for public viewing.

Cohen, who also made serious videos documenting the work of officers, was transferred to the police records department, Horowitz said. The Web site included a statement that said he had made videos for years to raise the public's opinion of the force and raise officer morale. "I believe this was accomplished," the statement said. "However, I think that this is where the road ends." (AP)

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