PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – It’s one of the largest sweeping removals of officers from the street in history.
The City of Philadelphia has placed 72 police officers on desk duty while they investigate reports of thousands of aggressive and racially biased social media posts and comments, according to the police commissioner.
The investigation began after a group called The Plain View Project released massive amounts of inappropriate content on social media that had allegedly been posted or commented on by police officers. Reports said that some of the content included racist images or memes, posts calling for violence, aggression against members of Islam and other inflammatory material.
The Plain View Project refers to themselves as a “database of public Facebook posts and comments made by current and former police officers from several jurisdictions across the United States.”
Now, officials are combing through the social media history of 72 officers.
“We are equally as disgusted by many of the posts that you saw and in many cases, the rest of the nation saw,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said.
Other major departments are digging deeper after the damning report was published earlier this month. Internal affairs officials in Dallas, Phoenix and St. Louis are all performing similar investigations.
What will become of these officers if their posts are found to contain what has been alleged against them?
“Several dozen” members of the department that are now on desk duty will be severely disciplined, and others will be terminated altogether, said Commissioner Ross, though he did not provide specifics on who would and wouldn’t keep their job.
"We are equally as disgusted by many of the posts that you saw & in many cases, the rest of the nation saw." #Philly Police Commissioner Richard Ross said several dozen of those on desk duty will be disciplined, others will be fired. Read more from @NPR https://t.co/iFZ4IA0bgK
— WCVE TV / FM (@wcve) June 20, 2019
“If the speech is determined to be protected, no further action will be taken,” Ross said. “An example would be an opinion on a matter of public concern that may be unpopular … but does not include threats of violence or pejorative language against any protected class.”
This type of behavior isn’t consistent with what their oath promises the community, Ross noted. They only further the divide between police and the public. A relationship we’re trying so hard to mend.
“We’ve talked about from the outset how disturbing, how disappointing and upsetting these posts are,” Ross said at a press briefing. “They will undeniably impact police-community relations.”
The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police condemned any hate speech, but voiced their support for their brothers and sisters who are so frequently attacked online.
“We strongly condemn violence and racism in any form,” Philadelphia FOP President John McNesby said. “The overwhelming majority of our 7-thousand officers regularly act with integrity and professionalism. We simply ask, who is watching or policing those that target law enforcement with violence, racism and unacceptable behavior?”
“We stand with our officers who serve in our neighborhoods every day and keep us safe.”
Ross says they are ready to repair the reputation of the department and bring back a higher level of trust with the community.
“This puts us in a position to work even harder than we already do to cultivate relationships with neighborhoods and individual groups that we struggle to work with or struggle to maintain relationships with now,” said Ross. “We will work tirelessly to repair that reputation.”
Ross also begged people to keep in mind that the city employs 6,500 officers, and that it’s incredibly unfair to conclude that all police officers are racist.
“There are many, many thousands who don’t think like this and who wouldn’t engage in this kind of behavior,” Ross said. “Wouldn’t make sense to assume that everybody is a racist and everybody is Islamophobic and everybody is a sexist, because they’re not,” he said.
The department’s social media policy prohibits profanity, discriminatory language or personal insults.
The investigation into the scandal is ongoing.