The Philadelphia Police Department will fire 13 officers who paired endorsements of violence with racism and homophobia in a slew of derogatory Facebook posts unearthed by an advocacy group, the city’s police commissioner said Thursday.
The officers, one of whom was a sergeant, were among the 72 removed from street duty and placed on administrative leave in June, when the department announced its sweeping investigation into social media activity published by the nonprofit Plain View Project. The group examined Facebook pages of 3,500 current and former officers at eight departments across the country, and its findings spurred internal investigations from Phoenix to Lake County, Fla.
In Philadelphia, the Plain View Project identified some 3,100 offensive or potentially offensive posts from 328 active-duty police officers. Of that number, the most offensive were placed on leave while a department-hired law firm probed the matter, Commissioner Richard Ross said at a news conference. In addition to the officers that will be dismissed, four others will be suspended for a month.
Their conduct, Ross said, “demonstrates the officers have little or no regard for their positions as police officers.”
“I continue to be very disappointed and angered by these posts, many of which violate basic human decency,” Ross said. “We need to move past this ridiculous hate that has consumed this country and has done so for centuries.”
The most egregious posts, he said, included Islamophobic cries such as “death to Islam,” references to African Americans as “thugs,” homophobic slurs, advocating violence against trans people and generally encouraging police brutality.
“The posts were deeply disturbing,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “Our police officers are entrusted to serve and protect the people of Philadelphia — everybody, all the people of Philadelphia.”
The mayor and commissioner both pledged the city would do “better” going forward, and Ross announced a panoply of trainings that officers have already done or will undergo in the near future — including anti-bias and anti-racism workshops with input from the Anti-Defamation League. The department will also purchase or develop software that will allow officials to “data mine” officers’ social media accounts and flag hateful or harmful posts.
John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia police union, said in a statement that the Fraternal Order of Police is “disappointed that our officers will be terminated without due process” but added that they “condemn racist and hateful speech in any form.”
“We are currently meeting with each officer to prepare an appropriate response to protect our members’ rights under the contract,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of our members serve this city with integrity and professionalism.”
McNesby has previously said that, while “there may have been a few” racist posts, “a lot of this stuff, though, I think is just cops being cops and venting.”
Ross said the 13 officers, whom he did not name and who will be fired after a 30-day suspension, will probably be the last ones let go as part of this investigation, though he did say that officials were still looking into posts deemed less urgently offensive.
The commissioner conceded that, even after the department punished its worst offenders, the episode inexorably frays relations between the police and the community.
“We’ve made significant inroads, but this takes us back,” he said. “I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t acknowledge that.”
Kenney defended his commissioner’s handling of the investigation and reaffirmed that he remains confident in Ross’s leadership of the department, which he has helmed for 2½ years.
“I think people who have hate in their hearts have hate in their hearts,” Kenney said. “And I don’t think there’s anything they can do to get the hate out of their hearts other than fire them, discipline them and train them.”