PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Seventy-two Philadelphia police officers have been placed on administrative duty in light of racist and offensive social media posts allegedly made by the officers, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said Wednesday.
Earlier this month, Philadelphia police launched an investigation into a public database of social media posts by officers that included Confederate imagery, anti-Muslim sentiments, violent rhetoric and racist comments.
As the investigation is underway, the officers have been taken off of street duty, but are still reporting to work.
An independent law firm will assist with the ongoing investigation, Ross said at a press conference. The department plans to review each post to see if the speech is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, he added.
“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.”
In addition, the Philadelphia Police Department will consult with the Anti-Defamation league and review its social media policies. The department aims to provide an update regarding disciplinary action in the next couple weeks.
Ross acknowledged that these posts are “disturbing, disappointing and upsetting.”
“They will undeniably impact police community relations … there’s no question that this puts us in the position to work even harder than we already do to cultivate relationships with neighborhoods and individual groups that we struggle to work with, even those that we have great relationships with,” Ross said.
“We strongly condemn violence and racism in any form,” Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 President John McNesby said in a statement earlier this month. “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.”
The posts were compiled by The Plain View Project, which describes itself as a “database of public Facebook posts and comments made by current and former police officers from several jurisdictions across the United States.” The group combed through thousands of posts from officers in eight jurisdictions in the United States.
Some of the accounts have since been deleted, but the Plain View Project provided screenshots of the posts. Since 2017, the group has compiled more than 5,000 posts from current and former officers, both in big cities such as Dallas and in smaller jurisdictions like Lake County, Florida.