Philadelphia PD Disciplines 72 Officers For Offensive Social Media Posts

The Philadelphia Police Department placed 72 officers on desk duty as investigators look into offensive social media posts made by current and former officers, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross recently announced. The commissioner said that some officers may be fired from the force.

The social media posts were made public by the advocacy group The Plain View Project, which released thousands of Facebook posts and comments made by officers, including racist memes, Islamophobic posts, and messages that celebrated police violence. The posts included officers from police departments in several cities, including Phoenix, Dallas, and St. Louis.“We are equally as disgusted by many of the posts that you saw and, in many cases, the rest of the nation saw,” Ross said at a news conference. On June 19, the police commissioner said that at least “several dozen” of the 72 officers would be disciplined, while others will be fired, according to NPR. He did not provide further details.

Ross acknowledged that the posts, which he called “disappointing and upsetting” will undermine efforts to improve relations between police officers and their communities.

“They will undeniably impact police-community relations,” Ross said, according to The New York Times. “We are not naïve to that fact, nor are we dismissive of it.” Philadelphia has hired attorneys to determine which of the officers’ posts were protected by the First Amendment and which were not, Ross said. There are limited restrictions on what public employees can say, which are based on considerations of public harm.“That’s a big threshold for us: How does it impact our ability to police?” Ross said.The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 5, which represents Philadelphia officers, said it would continue to support officers in this “overly broad social media investigation.”

“The FOP and our members utilize social media on a regular basis to bring people together and support one another. It is sad that the investigators with the ‘social justice’ group chose to ignore all the good work done regularly by our officers,” the police union said in a statement on its website. “During this difficult climate in which police officers are constantly under attack, the FOP will continue to support you.” FOP President John McNesby did not immediately respond to a request for further comment. But in a statement to The New York Times, McNesby called the police commissioner’s announcement that officers would be fired “premature and irresponsible.” He added that the police union has “been working around the clock” to protect officers’ First Amendment rights.Philadelphia Police told The North Star that no officers have been fired, but declined to comment further.

Civil rights attorney David Rudovsky, who focuses on police misconduct, told NPR that the commissioner’s decision to place the 72 officers on desk duty “significant.” The lawyer said the posts reflect conduct that is inconsistent with the department’s vow to provide fair and equal treatment to the people it protects.“More important will be the future decisions regarding sanctions or other measures to deal with this widespread problem in the police department,” Rudovsky said. Other departments around the country are also grappling with how to handle the bigoted social media posts. In Phoenix, Chief Jeri Williams called the social media posts “disturbing” and said she removed some officers from their beats.

Meanwhile, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner added another 22 St. Louis police officers to a list of officers who are not allowed to bring cases to her office, The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported. The number of officers on that list has now reached almost 60, or 5 percent of the department’s 1,100 commissioned officers.“Police integrity is at the core of the community’s confidence in the criminal justice system,” Gardner said in a statement, according to The New York Times. “When a police officer’s integrity is compromised in this manner, it compromises the entire criminal justice system and our overall ability to pursue justice.”

The Plain View Project’s flagged offensive posts by approximately 2,900 current officers and hundreds of former police officers in eight police departments. The controversial report involved more than 300 officers in Philadelphia.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.