The Philadelphia Police Department announced Wednesday it had taken 72 officers off the streets in response to the discovery of thousands of offensive social media posts by the officers, including violent messages and racist memes. The officers were placed on desk duty as the social media scandal brews, implicating more than 300 officers of the city’s 6,500-officer police force. “We’ve talked about from the outset how disturbing, how disappointing and upsetting these posts are,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said Wednesday. “They will undeniably impact police-community relations.”
The posts came to light as part of the work of the Plain View Project, a group of lawyers that began monitoring the social media accounts of Philadelphia officers in the fall of 2017 in order to assess whether the officers’ online behavior eroded public trust in the police force. The group began its work after it found posts where “officers commented that apprehended suspects—often black men— ‘should be dead’ or ‘should have more lumps on his head.’ In other Facebook conversations, officers advocated shooting looters on sight and using cars to run over protestors,” the group’s website says. “Numerous posts deemed Islam ‘a cult, not a religion’ and referred to Muslims as ‘savages’ and ‘goat-humpers.’ And, in still others, officers appeared to joke about beating and raping women.” What the advocacy group ended up collecting was staggering, and the Philadelphia police department has now hired a law firm to sift through some 3,100 posts that have been identified as offensive.
The group’s data collection ended up identifying offensive posts by 2,900 officers, including hundreds more former officers across eight police departments. The data dump has caused police departments in other cities—including Phoenix, St. Louis, and Dallas—to assess how to discipline their officers for offensive posts. In Philadelphia, the police commissioner said there will be further sanctions against many officers beyond the initial suspension; he expects at least “several dozen” to face further discipline, including termination.