72 Philadelphia police officers 'removed from the street' over troubling social media posts

The racist posts were allegedly made by current and former officers.

June 19, 2019, 9:09 PM

Several dozen Philadelphia police officers were placed on administrative duty in the wake of an investigation into claims of racial bias levied by a civil rights watchdog, officials said Wednesday.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said 72 officers were “removed from the street” after the Plain View Project, a database that collects public Facebook posts and comments from current and former police officers, claimed it had uncovered more than 300 racist, sexist and/or biased social media posts by the city’s police officers.

“Internal affairs has already begun to investigate each of these officers identified,” Ross said Wednesday. “The law department has contracted with the law firm Ballard Spahr to review each post to determine if the speech is constitutionally protected.”

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross listens to a question during a news conference in Philadelphia, June 19, 2019.
Matt Rourke/AP

Researchers with the Plain View Project said they examined more than 3,100 posts and comments on Facebook that were allegedly authored by current and retired officers of the Philadelphia Police Department.

The analysis revealed that at least 328 active-duty officers allegedly posted troubling content, including posts that celebrated acts of violence against Muslims, immigrants and black people accused of committing crimes. Some posts captured long, hate-filled exchanges that appeared to involve multiple officers, according to the database.

The organization, founded by Philadelphia-based lawyer Emily Baker-White, said it analyzed the Facebook accounts of thousands of police officers across eight U.S. cities, including New York, Pennsylvania, Dallas, St. Louis and Phoenix.

"We found a very high and concerning number of posts that appear to endorse, celebrate or glorify violence and vigilantism," Baker-White told ABC News in an interview earlier this month. "We included posts that we thought could affect public trust and policing."

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross listens to a question during a news conference in Philadelphia, June 19, 2019.
Matt Rourke/AP

Local news outlets, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, attributed some of the posts to high-ranking members of the department, including a police inspector, six captains and eight lieutenants.

ABC News could not independently verify the posts in question, but the project said it went through a vigorous process to authenticate the profiles. Some users reported specific police departments as their employers, while others posted pictures of themselves in uniform, according to its website.

The department said it was working to independently verify that officers referenced in the project actually made the comments. Ross, who said most of the comments were made while officers were off-duty, had previously called the comments “deeply disturbing and upsetting.”

“But to be clear, those officers that we have identified that appear to have engaged in explicit bias against any protected class of individual or who advocated any form of violence, will be immediately removed from street duty during the course of these investigations,” Ross said in a statement earlier this month. “When a police officer’s expression of his or her opinions erodes the police department’s ability to do its job and maintain the public’s trust, the department is permitted to act, including disciplining officers when the circumstances allow for it.”

The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement calling the decision "premature" and "irresponsible."

“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," said FOP Lodge #5 President John McNesby. "Our officers are entitled to due process just like any other citizen."

ABC News' Brendan Rand and Anthony Mcmahon contributed to this report.