13 Philadelphia Officers to Be Fired Over Racist, Violent Facebook Posts

72 officers were placed on administrative leave after their posts were made public. Nearly all will face some kind of disciplinary action

What to Know

  • Dozens of Philadelphia officers were placed on leave amid an investigation into racist Facebook posts.
  • A local law firm was hired by the City to investigate the social media posts of more than 300 officers.
  • The social media posts in question contain racist and violent language toward various groups.

At least 13 Philadelphia police officers will be fired as a result of racist, homophobic and violent social media posts revealed last month by the Plain View Project, Police Commissioner Richard Ross announced Thursday. 

These officers were determined to be the worst offenders among 328 local cops identified in the project's national database. The police department will suspend them for 30 days with the intent to fire them, Ross said.

Among the most egregious social media posts shared by Philadelphia police officers was a meme that read "Death to Islam." Others referred to black people as "thugs" and shared homophobic memes that encouraged violence, Ross said.

An additional four officers, whose posts were less violent, will be suspended for 30 days and must undergo anti-bias training.

A third class of officers who violated the police department's social media policy but did not advocate hate or excessive force will be suspended for five days. They must also participate in ongoing sensitivity training.

"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."

None of the officers disciplined were identified pending final paperwork. Several were still out on vacation when their firings were made public, Ross said. Those officers had previously been informed of disciplinary action.

John McNesby, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said the union was aware of the dismissals and "disappointed officers will be fired without due process."

The union is currently meeting with each officer to prepare an "appropriate response to protect our members' rights under the contract," McNesby said.

“FOP Lodge #5 and our members condemn racist and hateful speech in any form," he added. “The overwhelming majority of our members serve this city with integrity and professionalism.”

Thursday's announcement comes one month after 72 officers were placed on administrative leave shortly after the release of the Plain View Project database, made public June 1.

All but three will be disciplined in some way.

The 3,000 posts in question were uncovered by a team of researchers who spent nearly two years looking at the personal Facebook accounts of police officers from Arizona to Florida. They found officers bashing immigrants and Muslims, promoting racist stereotypes, identifying with right-wing militia groups and glorifying police brutality.

A sergeant in Philadelphia commented that a young suspect should be "taken out back and put down like the rabid animal he is."

All the posts were public and some dated back to 2010. None of the 72 Philadelphia officers on leave denied the posts, Ross said. 

"When this issue first came to light, many of the posts were deeply disturbing," Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said. "We have a duty to represent ourselves and our city ... We will not allow this incident to break down the progress we have made and we pledge to do better" moving forward.

The Philadelphia Law Department, Philadelphia law firm Ballard Spahr and the Internal Affairs Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department worked in tandem over the past month to investigate the Facebook posts and determine whether any were protected by the First Amendment, Ross said.

The Internal Affairs investigation identified and prioritized officers who advocated violence or death against classes of protected people, such as religious and racial minorities. 

In addition to that investigation, every member of the Philadelphia police department will be required to watch a training video outlining social media and off-duty policies in regards to race, ethnicity, code and conduct.

"It is so sad that ... a country that is supposed to be the greatest country in the world, that we have such hatred that doesn’t seem to end," Ross said.

The police department will also develop a mechanism to inspect officers' social media posts and identify potential problems, work with outside groups dealing with anti-bias and anti-racism training and consult with the Anti-Defamation League.

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