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72 Philadelphia police officers placed on desk duty amid investigation of racist social media posts

Three Philadelphia police officers and a Highway Patrol Lieutenant standing next to a police SUV. (Zuzu/Wikimedia Commons)

The Philadelphia Police Department announced Wednesday it has placed 72 cops on desk duty as it investigates racist comments posted by officers on social media.

Richard Ross, the city’s police commissioner, said in a news conference that the department would “not be shy about meting out the appropriate discipline” in response to posts cataloged by the Plain View Project, a database of social media posts published at the beginning of June.

The police force opened the investigation after the research project unearthed comments from more than 300 Philadelphia officers that researchers felt could harm trust in local law enforcement.

One officer posted a picture of the Confederate flag, according to a screenshot captured in the project’s database. Another posted a meme that said, “Death To Islam.” Numerous posts in the database described black men as “animals.”

Ross said an outside law firm would assist with the investigation.

“We understand how this can tarnish — or did tarnish — our reputation,” Ross said in the news conference. “But we will work tirelessly to repair that reputation, to improve police-community relations, as we are equally disgusted by many of the posts.”

Emily Baker-White, a lawyer, launched the Plain View Project in 2017. To compile the report, researchers cross-referenced police rosters and then located officers’ Facebook profiles, which were then verified, Baker-White said.

“Our threshold for including a post in the database was: Is this something that could erode public trust in policing?” Baker-White told the Daily News earlier this month.

The project looked at seven other areas, including St. Louis and Dallas. The chief prosecutor in St. Louis announced Tuesday that, in response to posts unearthed by the database, she added 22 cops to a list of officers her office won’t take cases from.

Baker-White said Philadelphia’s force had the most concerning posts of any jurisdiction her team looked at, but she noted that it is “by far the biggest” department in the database.

Among 1,073 Philadelphia officers the researchers identified on Facebook, about a third made comments they deemed worrying, according to a report published by Injustice Watch, an investigative news organization, and Buzzfeed News.

“Our officers are entitled to due process just like any other citizen,” said Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 President John McNesby in a statement, according to CNN. “We will support and represent those officers. … Far too many officers have been taken off the street during a time of increased violence in our city.”


© 2019 New York Daily News

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