Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross announced on Thursday that more than a dozen Philadelphia police officers will be suspended or terminated for their racist and violent posts on Facebook, and city police will now begin to work to “earn back the trust of the people they’ve sworn an oath to protect.”
Standing alongside police brass and Mayor Jim Kenney at police headquarters, Ross said an internal investigation identified 13 officers who went beyond violating the department’s social media policy by posting material that was not only offense and unprotected, but demonstrated they have “little or no regard for their position as police officers.”
The officers will be suspended for 30 days as the department takes steps to fire them, Ross said. The highest ranking officer facing termination was a sergeant.
Four additional officers, whose posts were determined to be “less egregious,” each will face a 30-day suspensions.
“I continue to be very angered and disappointed by these posts, many of which, in my view, violate the basic tenets of human decency,” Ross said. “I am saddened by the fact that there are some that would attempt to even justify such hateful and vile behavior.”
Police officers are held to a higher standard than others, and they are aware of that “from the moment we take this job,” Ross said. “This is not indicative by any means of who we are. But our charge is to carry out our jobs with integrity. That was not the case with some, as we have seen.”
As expected, the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 will fight the disciplinary actions.
“We are aware of the dismissals and disappointed that our officers will be terminated without due-process. We are currently meeting with each officer to prepare an appropriate response to protect our members’ rights under the contract,” said FOP President John McNesby in a statement. “FOP Lodge Number 5 and our members condemn racist and hateful speech in any form. The overwhelming majority of our members serve this city with integrity and professionalism.”
The police union met with some of those officers caught up in controversy on Thursday, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting. The FOP also sent a letter to officers advising them not to sign anything without first contacting the FOP.
Rochelle Bilal, the president of the Guardian Civic League, an organization that represents minority police officers, declined to comment, except to note the small number of officers who are being disciplined.
The 17 officers facing disciplinary actions were among 72 officers Ross had placed on desk duty after the Plain View Project, a research group that looked at several police departments across the country, shared their Facebook posts on its website. The Plain View Project identified more than 320 Philadelphia police officers who appeared to make thousands of racist, sexist, violent or otherwise offensive posts.
Ross said it is unlikely that there will be any more terminations, but some of posts made by the other officers are still under scrutiny. He would not reveal the nature of the continuing investigations but said he expected them to be complete by Labor Day.
In the posts, it appears officers said suspects — often Black men — “should be dead” or “should have more lumps on his head.”
Officers apparently frequently referred to Black people as “animals” and said they “should be taken out back and put down” or locked in cages. Officers appeared to advocate shooting suspects on sight and using cars to drive over protesters. Some officers also appeared to praise white supremacists.
In other posts, officers appeared to joke about raping and beating women.
When Ross was asked if the posts represented a failure in his leadership, Kenney jumped in, saying he sees Ross’ leadership every day and he’s confident in it.
“We’ve made tremendous progress in this department over the last few years and we’ll continue to make progress,” Kenney said. “But I think this is about people having hate in their hearts. There isn’t anything that he can do to get the hate in their hearts out other than to fire them, discipline them and train them.”
Solomon Jones, a WURD radio host and local columnist who had organized protests over the social media posts, said he was pleased with the initial disciplinary actions handed out, “but it’s just a start.”
“It’s a reflection of what can happen when people come together and speak with a single voice and say, ‘This is not something we are going to tolerate,’” he said.
The officers exposed in the database continue to pose a danger to the community, Jones maintained. He stressed the department must address its culture and the union protections that allow officers to feel empowered to voice those views publicly.
Jones said he and protesters will continue to put the pressure on Ross and Kenney over the officers’ social media posts.
A community forum is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. on July 28 at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, at 419 S. 6th St., where city and police officials are expected to provide further updates about the posts and the internal investigation, Jones said.