PHOENIX — Declaring her "shock" at Phoenix police officers' inflammatory posts on Facebook, Police Chief Jeri Williams said Tuesday she was assigning an undisclosed number of officers to desk jobs while they're investigated for possible misconduct.
"It's hate speech, it creates dissension...it erodes the trust we work so hard to build," Williams said in an interview about the posts, which were uncovered by an independent group.
"I won't tolerate it, and our community shouldn't tolerate it either."
The Plain View Project compiled Facebook posts by 3,500 active and retired officers in Phoenix and several other big city police departments.
The result is a database packed with racist comments and imagery, endorsements of violence, and pro-Trump and anti-Obama memes.
"The sheer volume of the material we found across jurisdictions suggests that this isn't a problem of a couple bad apples," said Emily Baker-White, an attorney and executive director of the Plain View Project.
"Not all police officers, not even most police officers may hold these beliefs or share things like this on social media. But there is a subculture that is sharing and reinforcing these problematic statements," she said.
Some of those statements from current Phoenix police officers:
-"It's a good day for a chokehold"
-"Congratulations George Zimmerman! Thank you for cleaning up our community one thug at a time."
-"Stop Obama's Muslim colonization plan."
-"I don't want to grow up to be abused as a Muslim sex slave. Please ban Islam," over a photo of a goat.
We verified that a very small number of Phoenix's 3,000 sworn officers are responsible for most of the posts.
The Plain View Project identified 178 questionable Facebook posts over the last nine years, from 75 active-duty Phoenix cops.
Ten of the officers, including a sergeant, produced 50% of those questionable posts.
"That should make it easy to discipline them—make it easy to identify bad apples," said Roy Tatem, president of the East Valley NAACP. "I don't believe the whole Phoenix Police Department is on board with truly serving and protecting."
Baker-White said the small number of offending officers shouldn't minimize the posts' impact.
"When you look at some of the images, one of these is too many," Baker-White said in an interview via Skype. "What I fear the most in this project is that this shows why some people may be afraid to pick up the phone and call 911 if they have an emergency."
While many of the posts were offensive, some were just cops venting about the job, like this one: "Time to do less with less," about staffing problems.
Conservative City Councilman Sal DiCiccio ripped the report as an attack on free speech:
"To smear our entire department for the words...of a handful of officers is, at best, disingenuous, and is truly insulting to the literally thousands of men and women who put their lives on the line for us every single day and do so with honor. This is an attempt to shut down free speech, nothing more, nothing less."
DiCiccio added: "Much of this only rises to the level of 'hate' if you're a liberal snowflake."
The Phoenix Police Department's 1,000-page "Operations Orders," which govern how the department runs and officers do their jobs, contains a six-page "Social Media Use Policy" that took effect six years ago.
The "personal use" section prohibits employees from "using social media in a manner that would cause embarrassment to or discredit the Department in any way." It goes on:
"Employees are responsible for their social media postings if they are found to be in violation of any City or Department policy. Employees may not use social media to harass, discriminate, bully, retaliate, etc."
"Department personnel are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites to the degree that their speech does not impair working relationships of this Department, are detrimental to the mission and functions of the Department, that undermine respect or public confidence in the Department, cause embarrassment to the Department or City, discredit the Department or City, or undermine the goals and mission of the Department or City."
"We're really looking into a matter that's very serious," Williams said.
She cautioned that the misconduct investigation could take time.
"Out of the 2,900 officers I have on this department, I have a small group of people who, if this is true, made some decisions that could begin to erode the trust of the department. There's no place for hate in the City of Phoenix."
This controversy comes after Phoenix police officers completed what's known as "implicit bias training." The $150,000, taxpayer-funded program teaches racial and cultural sensitivity.