Police departments in at least five states are investigating, and in some cases condemning, their officers’ social media feeds after the weekend publication of a database that appears to catalog thousands of bigoted or violent posts by active-duty and former cops.
The posts were uncovered by a team of researchers who spent 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, especially, glorifying police brutality. All the posts were public.
“It’s a good day for a choke hold,” wrote an officer in Phoenix. 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 said, “Death to Islam.” In St. Louis, a police official shared a meme asserting that “if the Confederate flag is racist, then so is Black History Month.”
“Obviously, some of the posts are very disturbing,” said Emily Baker-White, a lawyer who launched the Plain View Project in 2017. The work, she said, revealed a troubling online subculture that threatens to undermine public confidence in law enforcement.
“It gets in the way of officers’ ability to protect everybody out there,” she said. “My biggest fear is that there are people who are seeing these posts online, who are interacting with these officers, who think, ‘The police might not be there for me because I pray differently than they do, or I look differently, or I have a different immigration status.'”
Police departments often have social media policies that limit what officers may say online, and most of the departments included in the Plain View database said this week they are launching investigations into their officers’ Facebook feeds.
St. Louis began an internal affairs probe, and announced that officers will undergo sensitivity training, after researchers flagged 166 posts by active-duty police. The city prosecutor’s office said Wednesday it has launched a separate review.
“These posts are disturbing and unacceptable,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said in a statement. “We expect professionalism out of every city employee. No exceptions.”
In Phoenix, Police Chief Jeri Williams has moved some officers to “non-enforcement” assignments while the department probes Facebook posts she called “embarrassing and disturbing.” The database included nearly 180 posts tied to current Phoenix police officers that disparage Muslims, black people, transgender people and other groups.