Comparing Philadelphia police's action against racist Facebook posts to St. Louis'

Comparing Philadelphia police's action against racist Facebook posts to St. Louis'

PHILADELPHIA  — Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross says 72 police officers in his city have been placed on administrative duty amid an initial investigation into a national group’s accusation of officers in at least five states posting racist and anti-Muslim comments on social media.

Locally, MetroSTL.com was the first to report on similar findings surrounding a number of St. Louis officers.  Twenty-two officers in St. Louis have been given similar administrative, or “desk,” duty.

In Philadelphia, Ross said that he believed at least “several dozen” people would be disciplined and that he expected some to be fired. The commissioner said the internal affairs division prioritized posts “clearly advocating violence or death against any protected class such as ethnicity, national origin, sex, religion and race.” An independent law firm had been hired to determine whether posts were constitutionally protected before any discipline is imposed.

“I am not prepared to tell you at this point who’s being disciplined and how many may be terminated, but I can tell you with a degree of certainty there are some people who will meet with that fate,” Ross said Wednesday.

In St. Louis, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards ordered sensitivity training for officers of the rank of sergeant and above.  Meanwhile police Chief John Hayden told the Board of Aldermen’s public safety committee more than a week ago that a comprehensive investigation was underway and such behavior was unacceptable.

“You’re a police officer 24 hours a day, and your conduct is expected to reflect that,” Hayden said at the time.

While the St. Louis police were quicker to act as far as getting the officers in question off the street, officials here have spoken with far less certainty when it comes to potential discipline and termination.  Edwards was cautious when asked if officers involved would be fired.

“Those posts were made by both men and women, black and white and African American,” Edwards said. The three who made the most serious posts were placed on administrative leave.

“There is a process, and I understand the process,” Edwards said. “I suspect that there will be some situations and circumstances (in which) I will be constrained by the law.”

In the immediate wake of the scandal’s breaking, during an interview with MetroSTL.com, Edwards took a similar “wait and see” stance on the topic of firings.

“You’re asking me to terminate somebody that posted something in 2016, or you’re asking me to retroactively engage in a discipline process before we had a social media policy or before I was even here,” he said.

But he wouldn’t completely close the door on firings.

“What’s been presented to me now, I will take a look at, and there may be consequences.  I would not have sent it to (the Internal Affairs Division) if there was no possibility of some action being taken.”

To this point the most significant move in St. Louis has come from the circuit attorney’s office.  Kim Gardner added the 22 current St. Louis officers in question to an “exclusion list” that forbids them from bringing cases to the circuit attorney, significantly hampering their ability to do their jobs.  She says most will be eligible for review, but seven deemed to be the worst offenders have been permanently banned by the prosecutor.

“Police integrity is at the core of the community’s confidence in the criminal justice system,” Gardner said. “When a police officer’s integrity is compromised in this manner, it compromises the entire criminal justice system and our overall ability to pursue justice. After careful examination of the underlying bias contained in those social media posts, we have concluded that this bias would likely influence an officer’s ability to perform his or her duties in an unbiased manner.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.