Racist, violent posts by police: Departments investigating

Police departments in at least five states are investigating, and in some cases condemning, their officers' social media feeds after the weekend publication of a database that appears to catalog thousands of bigoted or violent posts by active-duty and former cops.

The posts were uncovered by a team of researchers who spent two years looking at the personal Facebook accounts of police officers from Arizona to Florida. They found officers bashing immigrants and Muslims, promoting racist stereotypes, identifying with right-wing militia groups and, especially, glorifying police brutality. All the posts were public.

"It's a good day for a choke hold," wrote an officer in Phoenix. A sergeant in Philadelphia commented that a young suspect should be "taken out back and put down like the rabid animal he is." Another sergeant posted a meme that said, "Death to Islam." In St. Louis, a police official shared a meme asserting that "if the Confederate flag is racist, then so is Black History Month."

"Obviously, some of the posts are very disturbing," said Emily Baker-White, a lawyer who launched the Plain View Project in 2017. The work, she said, revealed a troubling online subculture that threatens to undermine public confidence in law enforcement.

"It gets in the way of officers' ability to protect everybody out there," she said. "My biggest fear is that there are people who are seeing these posts online, who are interacting with these officers, who think, 'The police might not be there for me because I pray differently than they do, or I look differently, or I have a different immigration status.'"

Police departments often have social media policies that limit what officers may say online, and most of the departments included in the Plain View database said this week they are launching investigations into their officers' Facebook feeds.

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University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing (R) stands near a car after driver Samuel Dubose was allegedly pulled over and shot during a traffic stop in Cincinnati, Ohio July 19, 2015, in a still image from body camera video released by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office on July 29, 2015. Tensing has been charged with the murder of Dubose after a grand jury investigation, the Hamilton County prosecutor said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing stands near a car after driver Samuel Dubose was allegedly pulled over and shot during a traffic stop in Cincinnati, Ohio July 19, 2015, in a still image from body camera video released by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office on July 29, 2015. REUTERS/Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office/Handout via Reuters/File Photo FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Nurse Alex Wubbels is shown during an incident at University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., in this still photo taken from police body-worn camera video taken July 26, 2017 and provided September 1, 2017. Salt Lake City Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
Nurse Alex Wubbels is shown during an incident at University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., in this still photo taken from police body-worn camera video taken July 26, 2017 and provided September 1, 2017. Salt Lake City Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
Nurse Alex Wubbels is shown during an incident at University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., in this still photo taken from police body-worn camera video taken July 26, 2017 and provided September 1, 2017. Salt Lake City Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
A still image captured from police body camera video appears to show a Baltimore police officer placing a small plastic bag in a trash-strewn yard as two colleagues look on (not shown) according to the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in this image released in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. on July 19, 2017. Courtesy Baltimore Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A still image captured from police body camera video appears to show a Baltimore police officer retrieving a small plastic bag in a trash-strewn yard which was placed earlier by the officer according to the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in this image released in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. on July 19, 2017. Courtesy Baltimore Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A still image captured from police body camera video appears to show a Baltimore police officer placing a small plastic bag in a trash-strewn yard as two colleagues look on (not shown) according to the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in this image released in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. on July 19, 2017. Courtesy Baltimore Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A still image captured from police body camera video appears to show a Baltimore police officer holding a small plastic bag filled with capsules which were filled with heroin powder in the arrest report, according to the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in this image released in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. on July 19, 2017. Courtesy Baltimore Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A Chicago police officer is seen shooting his weapon at a moving car (C) in this still image from video taken from a body camera released by the Chicago police in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. July 28, 2016. Chicago Police Department/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Police place handcuffs on Paul O'Neal, 18, after he was shot in this still image from video taken from a body camera released by the Chicago police in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. July 28, 2016. Chicago Police Department/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
A Chicago police officer is seen shooting his weapon at a moving car (C) in this still image from video taken from a body camera released by the Chicago police in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. July 28, 2016. Chicago Police Department/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Dylan Noble, 19, is shown in this image captured from police body camera video, after being shot while approaching Fresno, California police officers against their order during a traffic stop shortly before he was shot and killed in Fresno, California, U.S. on June 25, 2016. Courtesy Fresno Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Dylan Noble, 19, is shown in this image captured from police body camera video, being shot while approaching Fresno, California police officers against their order during a traffic stop shortly before he was shot and killed in Fresno, California, U.S. on June 25, 2016. Courtesy Fresno Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Dylan Noble, 19, is shown in this image captured from police body camera video, being shot while approaching Fresno, California police officers against their order during a traffic stop shortly before he was shot and killed in Fresno, California, U.S. on June 25, 2016. Courtesy Fresno Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Dylan Noble, 19, is shown in this image captured from police body camera video, approaching Fresno, California police officers against their order during a traffic stop shortly before he was shot and killed in Fresno, California, U.S. on June 25, 2016. Courtesy Fresno Police Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing (L) approaches a car with his gun drawn after driver Samuel Dubose was allegedly pulled over and shot during a traffic stop in Cincinnati, Ohio July 19, 2015, in a still image from body camera video released by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office on July 29, 2015. Tensing has been charged with the murder of Dubose after a grand jury investigation, the Hamilton County prosecutor said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing (R) stands near a car after driver Samuel Dubose was allegedly pulled over and shot during a traffic stop in Cincinnati, Ohio July 19, 2015, in a still image from body camera video released by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office on July 29, 2015. Tensing has been charged with the murder of Dubose after a grand jury investigation, the Hamilton County prosecutor said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
University of Cincinnati police officers Ray Tensing (L) and Phillip Kidd approach a car after driver Samuel Dubose was allegedly pulled over and shot during a traffic stop in Cincinnati, Ohio July 19, 2015, in a still image from body camera video released by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office on July 29, 2015. Tensing has been charged with the murder of Dubose after a grand jury investigation, the Hamilton County prosecutor said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing's body camera shows his handgun drawn after driver Samuel Dubose was pulled over and shot during a traffic stop in Cincinnati, Ohio July 19, 2015, in a still image from video released by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office on July 29, 2015. A University of Cincinnati police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man has been charged with murder after a grand jury investigation, the Hamilton County prosecutor said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing's body camera shows driver Samuel Dubose pulled over during a traffic stop in Cincinnati, Ohio July 19, 2015, in a still image from video released by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office on July 29, 2015. A University of Cincinnati police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man has been charged with murder after a grand jury investigation, the Hamilton County prosecutor said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
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St. Louis began an internal affairs probe, and announced that officers will undergo sensitivity training, after researchers flagged 166 posts by active-duty police. The city prosecutor's office said Wednesday it has launched a separate review.

"These posts are disturbing and unacceptable," Mayor Lyda Krewson said in a statement. "We expect professionalism out of every city employee. No exceptions."

In Phoenix, Police Chief Jeri Williams has moved some officers to "non-enforcement" assignments while the department probes Facebook posts she called "embarrassing and disturbing." The database included nearly 180 posts tied to current Phoenix police officers that disparage Muslims, black people, transgender people and other groups.

"They completely contradict how the Phoenix Police Department should speak about the members of our community or others," Williams said in a statement.

York, a small city in south-central Pennsylvania, is likewise investigating its officers' posts, and the police department will "take disciplinary action if any is warranted," said Officer Derek Hartman, a police spokesman. York's social media policy prohibits online conduct that "negatively impacts" the police department and residents.

The database includes a 2014 Facebook post purportedly by Galen Detweiler, a York officer who worked for Baltimore police at the time. "Bucket list: Punch a guy so hard he poops himself," the post said. The comment had a checkmark next to it.

Three years later, Detweiler was caught on video repeatedly punching a female suspect in the face during a struggle outside a York bar.

The woman's attorney, Leticia Chavez-Freed, said Wednesday she plans to use his 2014 post as an exhibit in a federal lawsuit alleging he used excessive force.

"You just see how embedded this culture is of punishing instead of policing, a lack of compassion for people who may not look like you, and frankly a love of violence," she said.

York police declined to make Detweiler available for comment.

Baker-White, a former federal public defender in Philadelphia, got the idea for Plain View after she was assigned to a police brutality case and found an inflammatory social media post by one of the officers involved.

"That made me ask the question, how prevalent is this stuff? How much of this stuff is out there?" she said.

Funded by Injustice Watch, a not-for-profit journalism organization, Baker-White and her team pored through the Facebook accounts of more than 2,800 current officers and nearly 700 former officers.

They wound up flagging posts by 556 of the current officers — about one in 5 of those studied — and 299 former officers. The database includes more than 5,000 posts, as well as comments on the posts. The results were jointly published on Saturday by Injustice Watch and BuzzFeed News.

The Lake County, Florida, Sheriff's Office said Wednesday it is reviewing posts by 16 deputies. Though department policy bars employees from posting material that is "unethical, slanderous, derogatory ... or that tends to compromise the integrity of the member," spokesman John Herrell said employees are given a "great deal more latitude" if they don't identify themselves as members of the law enforcement agency.

And in Denison, Texas, City Manager Judson Rex said that the city 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Dallas "does not condone racism or hate of any kind, on or off the job" and will discipline officers "if needed."

The Dallas Police Department did not respond to written questions Wednesday.

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Terry Tang in Phoenix; Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri; Freida Frisaro in Miami; and Jake Bleiberg in Dallas.

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