Phoenix police chief disciplines 70 officers after review of social media posts

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Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams announced her intention this week to fire one officer and suspend or provide supervisory coaching for dozens more after concluding an investigation into those officers’ social media posts.

The announcement follows the June Injustice Watch report, co-published with Buzzfeed News, about the release of a database documenting thousands of troubling posts by law enforcement officers in eight jurisdictions across the country.

The Plain View Project, which published the Facebook posts, flagged the social media posts of more than 70 current Phoenix officers.

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Phoenix is one of several cities in which officials responded to posts by their officers that were included in the database. In Philadelphia, the largest department included in the database, the police chief announced his intention to fire 13 officers, and discipline an additional 59 officers; several of the officers have since retired. In St. Louis, the top prosecutor announced over the summer that 22 officers whose posts were included in the database had been added to an exclusion list.  In Dallas, the department announced that its review found that 25 officers had authored posts that violated department rules; four of the officers judged to have the most extreme posts were placed on administrative leave.

At a press conference Tuesday, Williams said that while everyone is entitled to free speech, public servants commit to being held to a higher standard, one that will not tarnish the department’s reputation.

“It is difficult to admit that we had employees that did not live up to those expectations,” Williams said.

Williams said the department intends to fire one officer, Det. Dave Swick, after reviewing his posts. Swick was one of 12 officers who were placed on administrative duty as the department investigated the social media activity.

Swick’s posts included memes that were Islamophobic and cheered on violence toward protesters.

Nine other officers face suspensions between 8 and 40 hours, Williams said at the press conference. An additional 60 officers will receive “supervisory coaching.”

For those officers undergoing coaching, supervisors will walk through the content of the posts that were concerning with those individuals, Sgt. Tommy Thompson said at the press conference.

One of the 72 officers whose posts were under review was not disciplined, as the content was shared prior to the department’s creation of a social media policy. Another officer’s disciplinary matter is still pending. That officer, Sgt. Juan Hernandez, has filed a lawsuit contending his first amendment rights of free speech were violated by the department’s social media policy.