Philadelphia Police Department to fire 13 officers over ‘vile’ Facebook posts

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross answers reporters questions about an investigation into racist Facebook posts by active duty police officers. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross answers reporters questions about an investigation into racist Facebook posts by active duty police officers. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross announced Thursday that 13 officers will be terminated over violent or discriminatory Facebook posts.

The announcement comes after an internal review of a database detailing thousands of social media posts made by police, some of which contained homophobic comments, anti-Muslim slurs or calls to violence.

“I am very troubled and I understand the dismay the public would have, because we have it as well,” Ross said at a press conference.

He said the officers will be first suspended for 30 days with the intent to dismiss.

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Seventy-two officers were already removed from street duty over their posts. DA Larry Krasner has said some of the posts demonstrate police bias and could lead to cops being barred from testifying at criminal trials.

The commissioner said another four officers will receive 30 day suspensions, and others among the 72 would receive lesser reprimands. All are required to attend mandatory retraining classes.

The department worked with an outside law firm to review the posts. Ross said that many of the comments fell into a category of protected language that merely violated the department’s social media guidelines.

However, a smaller group of officers made statements online that indicated “they had little to no regard for their position as police officers,” he said.

Those comments led his office to seek their authors’ dismissal.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney defends police leadership during a press conference about racist Facebook posts by active duty officers. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“I continue to be very angry about these posts,” Ross said. “Many of these, in my view, violate the basic tenets of human decency. And I am saddened by the fact that there are some who would attempt to justify such hateful and vile behavior.”

The city’s Fraternal Order of Police said in a statement it was “disappointed” with the decision and planned to meet with all of the impacted officers. In the past, the police union has argued that officers fired over more serious misconduct should be reinstated.

The commissioner declined to name the 13 suspended officers, but read aloud from some of their Facebook comments. One matched a post made by Officer Jesus Cruz, in 2016, in reference to a news story about a police officers being injured while breaking up a brawl.

“F—— animals, he should have split their wigs,” Cruz wrote.

Ross also mentioned that posts reading “Death to Islam” could be grounds for dismissal. Police officer Joseph Przepiorka had posted a meme that read “Death to Islam.” A police source also confirmed both men were among the 13 officers set for dismissal.

Cruz had already enrolled in DROP, the city’s earlier retirement plan. Many of the older officers were expected to simply retire rather than await dismissal.

Ross said his department would explore enhanced “data mining” in order to better flag officers’ social media posts for problematic material. But some of the officers who had been under investigation over their posts had been subject to lawsuits. About half had civilian complaints over alleged misconduct filed against them over the past five years.

The commissioner couldn’t say why these officers appeared to be facing more serious repercussions over their Facebook posts than these formal complaints or lawsuits.

“It’s a fair question but I don’t know what those outcomes were for those cases,” he said. “But those are things we’ll be looking at because it’s a legitimate concern.”

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