PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross announced Wednesday that 72 officers are on administrative duty, and that some of them might be terminated, for alleged racist and violent social media posts. Hundreds of Philadelphia police officers have been accused of these type of social media posts.
Ross spoke after meeting with organizers of the Rally for Justice protest on Wednesday afternoon.
“We’ve talked about from the outset how disturbing, how disappointing and upsetting these posts are and how they will undeniably impact police-community relations and we’re not naïve to that fact and nor are we dismissive of it,” Ross said.
With the officers being placed on administrative duty, they no longer will interact with the public and they also have turned in their department side arm.
The protest organizers want all of the nearly 330 officers accused of racist and violent posts on social media assigned to desk duty, pending an investigation.
“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 around not only what happened with these Facebook posts, but is what is happening with the police contract and the Police Advisory Commission and other structural things that would keep this from happening again,” organizer Solomon Jones said.
The department’s Internal Affairs unit is working with an outside law firm to determine if these posts are protected under the First Amendment.
“Internal Affairs has identified and prioritized the posts clearly advocating violence or death against any protected class such as ethnicity, national origin, sex, religion and race. These officers have been removed from the street that fall under these categories,” Ross said.
Ross added that if the speech the officers used in the posts was determined to be protected, no further action would be taken.
“An example would be an opinion on a matter of public concern that may be unpopular but that does not include threats of violence or pejorative language against any protected class. If the speech is not protected by the First Amendment, the case will proceed with appropriate discipline,” Ross said.
“I’m not prepared to tell you at this point who is being disciplined and how many may be terminated,” Ross added, “but I can tell you with a degree of certainty that there are some people who will meet with that fate.”
Plain View Project, a watchdog group, discovered the controversial posts of police officers who work in Philadelphia and in other cities around the country.
Ross says every post listed in Plain View Project’s database is being examined.
Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby said they will continue to represent members “in this overly-broad social-media investigation.”
“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 McNesby. “Our officers are entitled to due process just like any other citizen.
“FOP attorneys and leadership have been working around-the-clock protecting our members rights under the contract and free-speech. We will support and represent those officers during this overly-broad social-media investigation. Far too many officers have been taken off the street during a time of increased violence in our city.
“Also, it’s important for the public to understand that the vast majority of our officers serve the residents of Philadelphia with integrity and professionalism.”
CBS3’s Greg Argos contributed to this report.