More than a dozen Philadelphia police officers are expected to be fired in the coming weeks for taking part in Facebook groups where they posted racist and offensive material.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, which broke the news of the firings, the dismissals are set to begin Friday. Over 300 officers were investigated for their posts after a database, which was compiled by the Plain View Project and first reported by Injustice Watch, cataloged thousands of dehumanizing posts made by Philadelphia police officers, as well as other cops in seven other jurisdictions.
In the immediate wake of the Facebook revelation, Philadelphia Commissioner Richard Ross reassigned 72 officers to desk duty. “We are equally disgusted by many of the posts that you saw, and that in many cases the rest of the nation saw,” Ross said. “Of all the things we have to contend with this in this police department … this is one we certainly could have done without.”
The Philadelphia Police’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge, however, has said that any firings over the Facebook posts would be “completely out of bounds.” Union President John McNesby characterized the posts as cops venting.
“People say racist Facebook posts — do we know they are racist? There may have been a few,” McNesby told KYW radio. “A lot of this stuff, though, I think is just cops being cops and venting.”
ThinkProgress has reached out to the Police Union for additional comment.
It is remarkably easy to return to a law enforcement career after being fired. As the website Billy Penn notes, of the 224 officers dismissed from the city of Philadelphia since 2008, 77 have gotten their job back, often with back-pay. A common way for them to do so is through the grievance arbitration process, which is written into their union contract and for which the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police holds a 90% success rate.
The problem is not confined to Philadelphia. A 2017 investigation by The Washington Post revealed that, of the 1,881 officers fired across the country for misconduct since 2006, 451 appealed and got their job back, including a District of Columbia officer who sexually abused a young woman in his patrol car and a Boston police department officer who was accused of acting as a getaway driver in a nightclub murder.
The racist Facebook posts have also been revealed to be endemic in departments across the United States. As the Reveal Center for Investigative Journalism reported last month, more than three dozen officers in departments ranging from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to the Texas Department of Public Safety have posted in Facebook groups supporting militias, neo-confederates, and far-right groups.
In July, barely two weeks after the news about the police Facebook groups broke, it was revealed that current and former members of U.S. Border Patrol were operating a similar closed group on the social media site, where they joked about the death of migrants and posted crude and sexually dehumanizing illustrations of Latinx congresswomen.
Customs and Border Protection officials are now investigating 70 active members of the agency in relation to the Facebook group. Border Patrol chief Carla Provost also quickly condemned the group. “These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see — and expect — from our agents day in and day out,” Provost said. “Any employees to have violated our standards will be held accountable.”
Provost herself is believed to have posted in this Facebook group.