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Police chief calls for investigation into Phoenix officers’ online posts

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department will look into its employees’ social media activity after a website listed nearly 300 posts deemed offensive from former and current officers.

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams called for an investigation Monday night in response to the release of the Plain View Project, a database consisting of thousands of social media posts made by police in eight U.S. cities, including Phoenix.

“In our view, people who are subject to decisions made by law enforcement may fairly question whether these online statements about race, religion, ethnicity and the acceptability of violent policing — among other topics — inform officers’ on-the-job behaviors and choices,” the website says.

According to ABC 15, there are posts from about 75 Phoenix officers. Those include memes mocking minority groups, including Muslims, African Americans, immigrants and transgender people.

They also include statements some see as promoting violence, including “It’s a good day for a choke hold” and a meme showing a cartoon character shooting former President Barack Obama in the head.

“I’ll be honest with you, I was shocked. Like all-caps shocked at the nature of the posts, at the language of the posts, of the photos of the posts,” Williams told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday. “That’s not in keeping with the Phoenix Police Department and that’s not in keeping with anything anybody in law enforcement is supposed to do.”

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego backed up Williams’ response.

“I was deeply disturbed by the posts. I know that no one wants to be judged by a single Facebook post, but this was a significant number of posts and something we are taking very seriously,” she told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday morning.

“I support the police chief taking immediate action.”

The police department’s Professional Standards Bureau already looked into one case brought to its attention when the report was being researched and cleared the employee of misconduct, Sgt. Vince Lewis said Monday in a press release.

City Councilman Sal DiCiccio broke with the mayor and issued a statement defending the police force.

“This new attack on police is shameful,” he said. “Nine years of social media posts from over 2,000 officers and 1,000 retirees. Less than 200 ‘offensive posts total.’ That is not a ‘culture’ of anything.”

According to the Plain View database, active Phoenix officers made 179 of the flagged posts and former officers made 112.

He called the project “an attempt to shut down free speech.”

“We need to judge people on their actions, understand that free speech is messy, and stop trying to stifle and persecute people for having opinions we don’t like,” he said.

Brandon Tatum, former Tucson police officer with conservative student organization Turning Point USA, told KTAR News on Monday the report is “an attempt to badger the Phoenix Police Department.”

“That’s 2% of the Phoenix Police Department that they’re making an entire article about, which I think is not legitimate if you want to make a clear stance that there’s some type of subculture and bias on the police department,” Tatum said.

He said that while some of the posts may be in violation of the department’s social media policy, he doesn’t think they necessarily apply to how the officers do their job.

Retired Phoenix Police Sgt. Darren Burch told KTAR News, “The community has a right to hold us at a higher standard, so (claims of bias) are concerning if true. The problem is … I’m not sure if it’s true.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Peter Samore and Jim Cross contributed to this report. 

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