Dozens of Philadelphia police officers were placed on desk duty amid an investigation of racist and insensitive Facebook posts allegedly made by active-duty and former cops across the country, according to a high ranking law enforcement source.
At least 50 Philadelphia police officers have been taken off the street so far as the investigation continues, the source said. A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department did not confirm this exact number, however.
"As we said from the onset - after saying we had taken 10 off the street - the number might grow throughout the investigation," the spokesperson wrote. "We will not be commenting on anything that might compromise the ability to effectively conduct the investigation - including a statistic that is subject to change."
A local law firm hired by the city is investigating the social media posts of more than 300 Philadelphia police officers identified in a database from the Plain View Project, made public June 1.
In a statement issued Thursday, the Philadelphia chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police union said the "overly-broad" investigation ignores the "good work done regularly" by police officers.
"During this difficult climate in which police officers are constantly under attack, the FOP will continue to support" officers, police union president John McNesby said in a statement.
The social media posts in question were uncovered by a team of researchers who spent nearly 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 glorifying police brutality.
All the posts were public. The project's findings were first reported by Buzzfeed, and were picked up by news organizations and police departments across the country.
"It's a good day for a choke hold," wrote an officer in Phoenix. In St. Louis, a police official shared a meme asserting that "if the Confederate flag is racist, then so is Black History Month."
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."
Officials told NBC10 last week that some of the officers identified in the database were assigned to desk duty by Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner Richard Ross on June 6.
It remains unclear what punishment — legally or professionally — that officers found to have made racist or insensitive posts will face.
Protests by city residents and public attrition by the mayor and police commissioner followed the release of the national database.
"The thing that really angers me is that a vast overwhelming majority of our police officers are kind-hearted, decent people willing to put their lives on the line for fellow citizens," Mayor Jim Kenney said in an interview last week. "These knuckleheads paint them all with a terrible brush."
A church leader in Philadelphia, however, believes the issue is bigger than city leaders are willing to accept.
"Over 300 people, that is an incredible number," Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia said. "You have to imagine that there are a considerable number of people who are like them, who hold the same beliefs who are just not crazy enough to put it on social media. This is a cultural problem within our department that has to be addressed."
On Tuesday it was announced that Philadelphia law firm Ballard Spahr would aid the Philadelphia Law Department in their investigation of the Facebook posts. The firm has more than 600 attorneys and counts former Philadelphia Mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell as a special counsel.