Law enforcement agencies in Dallas and Florida on Thursday became the latest to announce they are investigating allegations some of their employees made offensive comments on Facebook after a watchdog group compiled screenshots of the posts and shared them in an online database.
The screenshots of the public posts, published in the Plain View Project’s online database, purport to show officers or police department employees making hateful or racist remarks.
Since its founding in 2017, the Plain View Project says it has compiled images of more than 5,000 social media posts and comments by more than 3,500 current and former police officers in eight jurisdictions throughout the US.
Researchers obtained rosters of police officers and then looked them up on Facebook, according to the project’s website.
After examining the profiles to confirm they belonged to police officers, they reviewed public posts and comments to see if they would “undermine public trust and confidence in police.”
So far, two police departments, one sheriff’s office and one circuit attorney’s office have announced they are taking action:
On Thursday, Dallas Police Sgt. Warren Mitchell announced the department was conducting an internal investigation as a result of The Plain View Project, “to determine if the officers violated the Department’s Social Media Policy, or any other departmental policy.”
Mitchell said the department is working with the project’s founder to obtain the list of names and posts by employees connected to Dallas police. The internal inquiry’s findings will be made public, Mitchell said.
“We take these matters seriously and we want to ensure the community that we will not tolerate racism, bigotry or hatred of any kind in our organization.”
Lake County, Florida
The Lake County Sheriff’s Office in Florida said it was investigating social media posts by 16 of its active duty officers that were shared by the Plain View Project.
Lt. John Herrell said no sheriff’s office employees were currently suspended, fired or placed on administrative leave. Many of the posts were from former or retired employees, Herrell said.
Social media is part of the office’s background checks for new hires, he said.
Philadelphia police said it had taken 72 police officers off the street and placed them on administrative duty pending an internal investigation into posts that included Confederate imagery, anti-Muslim sentiments, violent rhetoric and racist comments.
An independent law firm is assisting in the investigation, per Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross. Each post will be examined to see if the speech is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, he said. If it is found to be protected, “no further action will be taken.”
The department will also review its social media policies and consult the Anti-Defamation League.
The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5’s President John McNesby said in a statement that the officers “are entitled to due process just like any other citizen.”
“Far too many officers have been taken off the street during a time of increased violence in our city,” he added.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner’s office announced 22 officers would be barred from bringing their cases to her office as a result of posts that came to light in the Plain View Project.
Cases in which these officers serve as primary witnesses are not currently being prosecuted, according to spokeswoman Susan C. Ryan, but it’s unclear how many cases that affects.
“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,” Gardner said in a news release.
“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.”
CNN has reached out to the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association but has not heard back.