Philadelphia moves to fire 13 officers over Facebook posts

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Police Department is suspending 13 officers with intent to fire them following an investigation into offensive and sometimes threatening Facebook posts, the police commissioner announced on Thursday.

The department had placed 72 officers on administrative leave in June after a nonprofit group published the results of a two-year review of personal Facebook posts or comments from officers in Philadelphia and seven other U.S. police departments.

The team of researchers found officers from Arizona to Florida bashing immigrants and Muslims, promoting racist stereotypes, identifying with right-wing militia groups and, especially, glorifying police brutality. All the posts were public.

All but three of the Philadelphia officers now on leave face some form of discipline, from dismissal to reprimands, said Police Commissioner Richard Ross. He said the department considered several factors when deciding on discipline, including the officers' constitutional rights and the integrity of the police department.

"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."

Officers who were on track to be fired made posts or comments that advocated violence or death "against any protected class such as ethnicity, national origin, sex, religion and race" or worked to "erode the trust necessary for a police department to carry out its core mission," Ross said.

Examples included posts with the words "Death to Islam," referring to blacks as "thugs," and homophobic memes which referenced violence, he said.

In total, the database found over 3,000 troubling Facebook posts by 328 active duty police officers, Ross said.

None of the officers was identified, and Ross said the suspensions hadn't yet begun because some of the officers were on vacation.

Mayor Jim Kenney joined the commissioner at a news conference to announce the findings of the city's investigation, which was aided by a private law firm.

"Building trust will always be our top priority," Kenney said, calling the posts deeply disturbing and antithetical to what his administration is about. "We will not allow this terrible incident to break down the progress we've made."

All of the 72 officers put on administrative leave will get social media and professionalism training, he said. The department is also looking at software that they could use to track and audit officers' social media postings.

John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia police union, said the Fraternal Order of Police is disappointed that the officers will be terminated without due process and they condemn racist and hateful speech in any form.

"We are currently meeting with each officer to prepare an appropriate response to protect our members' rights under the contract," he said in a statement. "The overwhelming majority of our members serve this city with integrity and professionalism."

Following publication of the database, St. Louis' top prosecutor added 22 more names to a list of officers in that city who are not allowed to bring cases to her office.

In Phoenix, Police Chief Jeri Williams has moved some officers to "non-enforcement" assignments while the department probes Facebook posts she called "embarrassing and disturbing." The database included nearly 180 posts tied to current Phoenix police officers that disparage Muslims, black people, transgender people and other groups.