Seventy-two Philadelphia police officers have been put on desk duty after an outside investigation into hundreds of officers’ Facebook accounts uncovered disturbing posts that appear to endorse violence, racism and bigotry.
The announcement on Wednesday by the city’s police commissioner comes weeks after the Plain View Project, an independent research project by Philadelphia attorneys, presented screengrabs of thousands of public posts belonging to current and former officers from eight U.S. jurisdictions over two years.
In addition to Philadelphia, those locations include Dallas, Texas, St. Louis, Missouri, Phoenix, Arizona, York, Pennsylvania, Twin Falls, Idaho, Denison, Texas, and Lake County, Florida.
The alleged posts included violent rhetoric, Confederate images, as well as anti-Muslim and anti-black comments, statements that, according to the Plain View Project, “could erode civilian trust and confidence in police.”
On Tuesday, St. Louis’ Circuit Attorney’s Office said it will not issue charges in any of the criminal investigations led by the nearly 60 St. Louis officers identified by Plain View.
“After careful examination of the underlying bias contained in those social media posts, we have concluded that this bias would likely influence an officer’s ability to perform his or her duties in an unbiased manner,” said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner in a statement obtained by the St. Louis-Post Dispatch.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, at a press conference on Wednesday, said he expects a full investigation into his officers’ conduct will take about six months.
“Every post is being looked at. Every one,” he told reporters.
“If the speech is determined to be protected, no further action will be taken,” he 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.”
The Philadelphia chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police union, in a statement posted on its website, expressed support of the officers and said the watchdog group only focused on their bad behavior.
“The FOP and our members utilize social media on a regular basis to bring people together and support one another,” it said. “It is sad that the investigators with the ‘social justice’ group chose to ignore all the good work done regularly by our officers. During this difficult climate in which police officers are constantly under attack, the FOP will continue to support you.”
The Philadelphia Police Department is the fourth largest in the U.S. with more than 6,300 sworn members.