The Philadelphia Police Department will fire 13 officers for their racist and violent Facebook posts, following an investigation into more than 3,000 such social media messages sent by the city's cops that were exposed by a local lawyer.
The 13 officers will be suspended for 30 days “with intent to dismiss," Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. announced at a press conference on Thursday.
Four other officers — whose Facebook posts were “less egregious” — will receive a 30-day suspension, Ross said.
The 17 officers who were suspended or fired posted material “that is not only offensive and unprotected” but revealed conduct that showed the officers “have little or no regard for their positions as police officers,” the commissioner said.
The posts were revealed in June by the Plain View Project, launched by Philadelphia lawyer Emily Baker-White. She examined the accounts of about 2,900 officers and about 600 retirees from eight departments across the US. She compiled posts that represented troubling conduct in a database that was first reported on by Injustice Watch in collaboration with BuzzFeed News.
Baker-White found that of the 328 Philadelphia officers, 139 appeared to have one or more federal civil rights lawsuits against them. At least 64 of the officers had leadership roles including sergeants, lieutenants, captains, or inspectors.
The database has led to investigations at police departments around the nation. Baker-White did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
The names of the disciplined officers in Philadelphia were not released, but the highest rank among them included a sergeant, Ross said.
“I continue to be angered and disappointed by these posts, many of which, in my view, violate the basic tenets of human decency,” Ross said, adding that the officers’ behavior was “hateful and vile.”
The 17 officers were among 72 cops who were taken off the street and put on administrative duty in June after an internal affairs investigation found they had made “deeply disturbing” posts including those against Muslims, black people, and transgender people.
The most egregious posts included a meme that said “death to Islam.” Other posts referred to black people as “thugs" and "animals" while other officers encouraged police brutality in their posts. Some officers shared anti-gay memes and suggested violence against transgender people, Ross said.
Most of the remaining officers who were taken off the street were found to have violated the department’s social media directive and will face a range of penalties from a reprimand to a five-day suspension, Ross said. Only three of the 72 officers will not face any disciplinary action.
The Philadelphia police began their investigation after the Plain View Project identified approximately 3,100 offensive Facebook posts by 328 active-duty Philadelphia police officers. The police department worked with a law firm to review each post and determine if the speech was constitutionally protected.
Many of the offensive posts made by the officers who were not fired or suspended fell under speech that was “constitutionally protected,” Ross said, adding that some of the officers' posts didn’t explicitly advocate for violence against protected groups.
“It is disheartening to know that in 2019 we still have people with these views,” Ross said.
One city sergeant reposted a meme disparaging people of Middle Eastern descent and called protesters who had appeared at an officer’s home after a shooting “scum,” the project found. The city has paid out out $977,500 to settle five lawsuits that were filed against the city of Philadelphia, the sergeant, and members of his squad since 2012.
Another sergeant posted a photo in 2015 mocking the Black Lives Matter movement. The image showed a bulletin board that had photos of dogs with handwritten captions. One caption said “hands up, don’t shoot” for a dog with his paws up in the air. “Dog lives matter,” the caption read.
In a post about refugees, an officer wrote, “Let them starve to death. I hate every last one of them." It is unclear if these posts led to the officers being disciplined.
The 72 officers removed from the streets in June underwent the first in a series of training about social media and professionalism, Ross said.
He said the department would develop a system to audit officers’ social media content and also hire experts to conduct anti-bias and anti-racist training for officers.