A congressional subcommittee opened an investigation Monday into eight law enforcement departments where current or former officers have been accused of posting violent, racist and xenophobic images and comments on Facebook.
The officers and their departments were named in The Plain View Project, a database of thousands of Facebook posts and comments made by more than 3,500 current and former police officers. An Injustice Watch investigation of those posts — co-published with BuzzFeed News last year — showed that officers routinely expressed white supremacist views and made violent remarks against marginalized groups, particularly Muslims, women, and Black people.
The investigation was part of several articles in Injustice Watch’s “In Plain View” series.
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On Monday, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight Reform’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties sent letters to the departments requesting documents related to internal investigations into the officers’ alleged misconduct to determine how and if they were reprimanded, according to copies of the letters obtained by Injustice Watch.
The subcommittee also wants those departments to show what training protocols they’ve implemented to prevent officers from engaging in similar behaviors online and if any of the officers identified in The Plain View Project had complaints lodged against them in the past.
The subcommittee sent the letters to the following police departments:
- Dallas Police Department
- Philadelphia Police Department
- Phoenix Police Department
- St. Louis Police Department
- Twin Falls Police Department (ID)
- York City Police Department (PA)
- Denison Police Department (TX)
- Lake County Sheriff’s Office (FL)
In the letters, the subcommittee asks that the departments provide all requested documents by Oct. 15. “Racist and violent social media postings from police officers threaten to erode the public’s trust” in law enforcement, the letters say.
A spokesperson for the St. Louis Police Department said it does not comment on disciplinary investigations unrelated to criminal matters. Craig Kingsbury, chief of the Twin Falls Police Department, wrote in an email that the department is “working to provide the requested information” and has no further comment at this time. The Phoenix Police Department said it will “cooperate fully” with the investigation.
The other police departments did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Injustice Watch as of 6:30 p.m. Monday evening.
In the year since Injustice Watch’s first investigation, two police officers in St. Louis have been fired over their Facebook posts. Dozens more at several other police departments have been disciplined or put on administrative leave for their behavior online.
But many others were not reprimanded at all.
In Philadelphia, for example, more than 300 active-duty officers were found to have posted bigoted material online, but the department only disciplined fewer than 200.
In its letter to the Philadelphia Police Department, the subcommittee asks the department to provide detailed documentation of those investigations and explain why it didn’t discipline the rest of the flagged officers.
“It is unclear which officers were investigated and disciplined, what consequences they suffered, or why PPD did not investigate all 330 officers identified by the Project,” the letter says.
The subcommittee goes on to cite reported instances of alleged anti-Black actions taken by officers working at the police departments in question.
In its letter to the police department in York, a small city in southern Pennsylvania, the subcommittee cites a recent report of an off-duty police officer acting out George Floyd’s death at a party. The subcommittee also highlights the 2018 murder of Botham Jean by a Dallas police in its letter to that department, as well as the death of Tony Timpa, a 32-year-old Black man who died while being pinned down by Dallas police officers in 2016.
In all eight of its letters, the subcommittee says that it’s “painfully clear that police departments … must actively work to eliminate racism and bigotry within their own ranks.”
On Tuesday, the subcommittee will host a virtual hearing on the dangers posed by white supremacists and their sympathizers within law enforcement.
In an interview with Injustice Watch earlier this year, Leigh Raiford, a professor of African American studies at the University of California at Berkeley, drew a connection between the sharing of lynching images among White people throughout history and some of the problematic imagery shared by police that was highlighted by the Plain View Project.
“I think what the contemporary images and the proliferation of those images in the Facebook groups demonstrate for me is that the problem isn’t about individuals who find their way into policing, but that actually policing at its origins is an available and acceptable place for people who believe in white supremacy, who have these kinds of thoughts and ideas, to make a living,” Raiford said.
“And that policing as a culture helps foster those ideas.”