72 cops placed on leave during racist Facebook posts investigation

Kristen Johanson
June 19, 2019 - 5:13 pm
Philadelphia police commissioner Richard Ross Jr. kept an eye as Bernie Sanders supporters march down Broad Street during the Democratic National Convention.

Jeremy Long/Lebanon Daily News via USA TODAY Network

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross confirmed 72 police officers have been placed on desk duty and some could lose their jobs as officials continue to investigate racist Facebook posts allegedly made by those officers in question.

Because of the city's contract with the Fraternal Order of Police, the officers are on desk duty, being paid, but they don't have their guns and have no power as an officer. 

Internal affairs, the city's law department and Ballard Spahr law firm are meticulously going through the each of 3,100 posts, said Ross. 

"(We are) ensuring that we have the right officer because we have to make sure that we absolutely have the right officer assigned to appropriate post," Ross said. 

The department is turning to groups like the Anti-Defamation League to help develop additional anti-bias, anti-racist training.

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Ross said they will be implementing a new social media auditing system which pulls keywords, which could be hate-filled, from officers on- and off-duty to the department.

He said the biggest impact has been the department's relationship with the community. 

"We will work tirelessly to repair that reputation, to improve police-community relations, as we are equally disgusted," Ross said.

Ross added that the 72 off the street will not impact public safety and the number of officers patrolling during the city's recent spike in violent crime. 

The Rally for Justice Coalition, a group of African American organizations, met Ross Wednesday and responded to the police department's action.

"We believe that they are committed to working with the community and we are committed to keeping the pressure on so that they continue to work with the community," said Solomon Jones. 

"They have to regain our trust. They work for us. So we look forward to working to regain that trust. This is a start," Jones added. 

John McNesby, the president of the FOP, issued a statement saying “It’s premature and irresponsible for the Commissioner to tell the public that police officers will be fired without a complete investigation into officers’ social media use."

The statement also said “We will support and represent those officers during this overly-broad social-media investigation," adding that it's important that the public understands "the vast majority of our officers serve the residents of Philadelphia with integrity and professionalism.” 

The posts were first brought to light by watchdog research group The Plain View Project. It compiled the comments in a database, which includes thousands of posts from police officers, active and retired, in eight cities. About 320 Philly officers posted problematic content, according to authorities.

The police department's social media policy is clear: employees are prohibited from using ethnic slurs, profanity or anything that is harassing, defamatory or discriminatory.

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KWY Newsradio's Cherri Gregg contributed to this report.