An investigation into racist and insensitive Facebook posts allegedly made by active-duty and former police officers across the country has led to 72 Philadelphia cops being placed on administrative leave, Commissioner Richard Ross announced Wednesday.
“We’ve talked about from the outset how disturbing, how disappointing and upsetting these posts are and how they will undeniably impact police-community relations," Ross said. "We’re not naïve to the fact and nor are we dismissive of it."
The announcement comes as a local law firm hired by the city continues to investigate the social media posts of more than 300 Philadelphia police officers identified in a database from the Plain View Project, made public June 1.
The 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.
All the posts were public. The project's findings were picked up by news organizations and police departments nationwide.
A sergeant in Philadelphia commented that a young suspect should be "taken out back and put down like the rabid animal he is." Another sergeant posted a meme that read "Death to Islam."
"It's a good day for a choke hold," wrote an officer in Phoenix. In St. Louis, a police official shared a meme asserting that, "if the Confederate flag is racist, then so is Black History Month."
The Philadelphia Law Department, Philadelphia law firm Ballard Spahr and the Internal Affairs Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department are all investigating the posts.
Ballard Spahr is also reviewing each post to determine if the speech is constitutionally protected.
"An example would be an opinion on the matter of public concern that may be unpopular but does not include threats of violence or pejorative language against any protected class," Ross said. "If the speech is not protected by the First Amendment, the case will proceed with appropriate discipline."
Ross said that could range from a few days off to officers being fired.
"I'm not prepared to tell you at this point who's being disciplined and how many may be terminated, but I can tell you with a degree of certainty that there are some people who will meet with that fate," Ross said.
In addition to an internal 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, the commissioner announced.
"There’s no question that this puts us in a position to work even harder than we already do to cultivate relationships with neighborhoods and individual groups that we struggle to work with or struggle to maintain good relationships with now," Ross said.
The 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.
In a statement issued earlier this month, the Philadelphia chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police union said the "overly-broad" investigation ignored the "good work done regularly" by police officers.
"During this difficult climate in which police officers are constantly under attack, the FOP will continue to support officers," police union president John McNesby said in a prior statement.
For more details on the story, please visit NBC Philadelphia.