Fifteen officers have left the Philadelphia police force over what the city's top cop described as "disgusting and outright appalling" social media posts — two more than officials previously indicated.
Four were fired and 11 resigned before they could be fired, Acting Police Commissioner Christine Coulter testified during a City Council hearing on Tuesday.
Seven officers received 30-day suspensions and 148 received “command-level discipline,” which could include up to a five-day suspension, Coulter said. Eleven cases remain before the Police Board of Inquiry, she said.
Coulter said the social media posts, which were revealed in June by the nonprofit Plain View Project, have "seriously compromised" the community's trust in the department.
But Councilwoman Cindy Bass said the police department has a long history of problems in regards to its relationship with Black and other minority communities — which were the targets of many of the derogatory postings.
“This is not a revelation. This is not something new,” Bass said to Coulter during the hearing. “This is something that’s been happening for a very, very long time in the city of Philadelphia.”
City Managing Director Brian Abernathy, who called the postings “appalling,” said the Kenney administration was reviewing its policy on social media with the intent of making it stronger. He also said city officials are developing a curriculum around diversity and inclusion, which will be rolled out in the coming months.
The city’s current social media policy recommends that employees do not use online platforms to threaten, harass or defame others. It also discourages engaging in hate speech against a protected class or inciting violence, Abernathy said.
Coulter said an outside firm had been contracted to put in place an anti-bias training program for every officer set to begin in the fall.
She also said the department will seek technology to monitor officers’ “public footprint” for hate and bias.
The Plain View Project looked at personal Facebook posts or comments from officers in Philadelphia and seven other police departments across the U.S. It found more than 3,000 posts made by 328 active-duty officers in Philadelphia.
“We were really behind the eight ball here,” she said about tracking the online activities of personnel.
Under questioning from Democratic Councilman Derek Green, Coulter said the steps taken to address the controversy were “a start” in rebuilding trust with the community.
“It’s going to take a whole lot more than training and effort on both sides to move us to that point,” she said at the hearing, “but you have to start somewhere.”
But Rochelle Bilal, who heads the group that represents Black Philadelphia police officers and a Democratic candidate for sheriff, questioned whether the police department has done enough to start.
“Until we say that nobody is going to be accepting this type of behavior and send a clear message — you can’t suspend them for 10 days and they still have their job if they’re calling people ‘banana-eating monkeys,’” Bilal said.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez said she was frustrated that some officers were not held accountable because they resigned before being fired.
“Essentially, they’re going to get full pensions, full everything,” she said.
Keir Bradford-Grey, who heads the Defender Association of Philadelphia, testified that the racist postings were a symptom of the department’s culture and noted measures to address it.
“To create a culture of accountability,” she said, “the disciplinary process needs to be not only taken seriously by the police department, but also needs to be overseen by the community.”