The social media habits of law enforcement are being exposed by investigative reporting


Last month the Phoenix New Times followed up on a Buzzfeed report on the Plain View Project, a database created by a team of Philadelphia attorneys in an effort to catalog bigotry and racism among police officers nationwide on social media. Phoenix Cops Bash Muslims, Call Black People Thugs in Shocking Facebook Posts:

The database includes 282 posts from current and former Phoenix police officers. Taken together, the posts reveal a chilling culture of intolerance and prejudice among Phoenix police officers, who frequently referred to black people as “thugs,” called for violence against protesters, denounced Muslims as rapists, and joked about refusing to help citizens who criticized the police.

While the database itself is comprehensive and lists the current employment status of each officer, New Times cross-checked the data with the city salary data to confirm the employment status of individual officers, and located many of the posts on the officer’s own Facebook pages. The Plain View Project used department rosters to check for officers’ Facebook profiles and and employment status. Unless otherwise noted, all of the officers mentioned in this article are listed as currently employed in the Plain View Project’s database.

In response to questions from Phoenix New Times and other media outlets, Phoenix police Sergeant Vincent Lewis said in a statement on Monday evening that the department is investigating the database for possible policy violations.

The union that represents the rank-and-file of the Phoenix Police Department defended the officers who posted racist and inflammatory commentary on their personal Facebook accounts. Phoenix police union defends officers identified in report of racist Facebook comments:

“People — including cops — say things they regret or that are unfortunate,” Mike “Britt” London, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association president, said in a statement. “But to judge an entire police department by a few social-media posts is doing a grave disservice to the nearly 3,000 sworn officers who work the front lines in Phoenix every day.”

“Every day, we use social media to better connect and better understand our city,” he said. “Unfortunately, in the hunt for negative spin, this anti-police group ignored all that in favor of absolute sensationalism. Their bias says far more about them than it does the police officers they’ve chosen to target.”

But Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams has pulled some of her officers who were identified in the database off of their “enforcement assignments.”

“I looked at some of the most egregious posts that I saw and I’m making a conscious choice to move a number of people to kind of a desk assignment so that they can’t engage with the public,” she said.

Williams didn’t specify how many officers she pulled from “enforcement assignments” or what role those officers currently serve in. She said she has asked for an internal investigation to determine whether the officers named in the database actually made the comments and whether the Facebook comments rise to the level of misconduct.

“When I started looking more at the posts, I’ll be honest with you, I was shocked,” she said Tuesday during an interview with The Arizona Republic. “Shocked at the posts and the comments that clearly promoted and created hate and dissension.”

She said that she will review the department’s social-media policy and may make changes.

Now, a month later, ProPublica reports on a Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group Where Agents Joke About Migrant Deaths and Post Sexist Memes:

Members of a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas on Monday and posted a vulgar illustration depicting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant, according to screenshots of their postings.

In one exchange, group members responded with indifference and wisecracks to the post of a news story about a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in May while in custody at a Border Patrol station in Weslaco, Texas. One member posted a GIF of Elmo with the quote, “Oh well.” Another responded with an image and the words “If he dies, he dies.”

Created in August 2016, the Facebook group is called “I’m 10-15” and boasts roughly 9,500 members from across the country. (10-15 is Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody.”) The group described itself, in an online introduction, as a forum for “funny” and “serious” discussion about work with the patrol. “Remember you are never alone in this family,” the introduction said.

* * *

ProPublica received images of several recent discussions in the 10-15 Facebook group and was able to link the participants in those online conversations to apparently legitimate Facebook profiles belonging to Border Patrol agents, including a supervisor based in El Paso, Texas, and an agent in Eagle Pass, Texas. ProPublica has so far been unable to reach the group members who made the postings.

ProPublica contacted three spokespeople for CBP in regard to the Facebook group and provided the names of three agents who appear to have participated in the online chats. CBP hasn’t yet responded.

“These comments and memes are extremely troubling,” said Daniel Martinez, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson who studies the border. “They’re clearly xenophobic and sexist.”

The postings, in his view, reflect what “seems to be a pervasive culture of cruelty aimed at immigrants within CBP. This isn’t just a few rogue agents or ‘bad apples.’”

The Border Patrol Facebook group is the most recent example of some law enforcement personnel behaving badly in public and private digital spaces. An investigation by Reveal uncovered hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers who moved in extremist Facebook circles, including white supremacist and anti-government groups. [“Hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from across the United States are members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on Facebook, a Reveal investigation has found.”] A team of researchers calling themselves the Plain View Project recently released a hefty database of offensive Facebook posts made by current and ex-law enforcement officers.

And in early 2018, federal investigators found a raft of disturbing and racist text messages sent by Border Patrol agents in southern Arizona after searching the phone of Matthew Bowen, an agent charged with running down a Guatemalan migrant with a Ford F-150 pickup truck. The texts, which were revealed in a court filing in federal court in Tucson, described migrants as “guats,” “wild ass shitbags,” “beaners” and “subhuman.” The messages included repeated discussions about burning the migrants up.

Several of the postings reviewed by ProPublica refer to the planned visit by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Veronica Escobar, to a troubled Border Patrol facility outside of El Paso. Agents at the compound in Clint, Texas, have been accused of holding children in neglectful, inhumane conditions.

Members of the Border Patrol Facebook group were not enthused about the tour, noting that Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from Queens, had compared Border Patrol facilities to Nazi concentration camps. Escobar is a freshman Democrat representing El Paso.

One member encouraged Border Patrol agents to hurl a “burrito at these bitches.” Another, apparently a patrol supervisor, wrote, “Fuck the hoes.” “There should be no photo ops for these scum buckets,” posted a third member.

Perhaps the most disturbing posts target Ocasio-Cortez. One includes a photo illustration of her engaged in oral sex at an immigrant detention center. Text accompanying the image reads, “Lucky Illegal Immigrant Glory Hole Special Starring AOC.”

Another is a photo illustration of a smiling President Donald Trump forcing Ocasio-Cortez’s head toward his crotch. The agent who posted the image commented: “That’s right bitches. The masses have spoken and today democracy won.”

The posts about Escobar and Ocasio-Cortez are “vile and sexist,” said a staffer for Escobar. “Furthermore, the comments made by Border Patrol agents towards immigrants, especially those that have lost their lives, are disgusting and show a complete disregard for human life and dignity.”

The head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Joaquin Castro, reviewed the Facebook discussions and was incensed. “It confirms some of the worst criticisms of Customs and Border Protection,” said Castro, a Democrat who represents San Antonio. “These are clearly agents who are desensitized to the point of being dangerous to migrants and their co-workers.” He added that the agents who made the vulgar comments “don’t deserve to wear any uniform representing the United States of America.”

The head of U.S. Border Patrol does not approve of nearly 10,000 of her agents belonging to a violently racist, misogynist Facebook group. “These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see—and expect—from our agents day in and day out,” said Border Patrol chief Carla Provost. “Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”

Customs and Border Protection announced Monday it will launch an inspector general investigation into a private Facebook page for 9,500 current and former Border Patrol agents, following a ProPublica report revealing that members of the group joked about migrant deaths and posted racist and sexually explicit memes about Latinx members of Congress.

Senior Democrats touring migrant detention facilities on Monday called for the immediate firing of Customs and Border Protection agents who joked about migrant deaths and posted vulgar images of freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among a secret Facebook group. Dems call for firing Border Patrol agents over ‘vile’ Facebook posts.

These recent investigative reports into the social media habits of law enforcement demonstrate that there are too many individuals serving in law enforcement who do not belong in the profession. It also demonstrates that law enforcement agencies need to do far more rigorous screening, training and oversight of personnel. Law enforcement is either attracting the wrong type of individuals to serve, or there is an abusive culture already present in an agency in which even good people come to conform to that existing culture. Whatever the reason, it needs to be addressed.

Vox reports on the group of lawmakers visited two border facilities in Clint and El Paso, Texas, on Monday. “People drinking out of toilets”: AOC and other Democrats share details from their Texas border facility tour (snippet):

In a news conference after their tour of the facilities, lawmakers tried to share the bleak details of what they saw — although their words were drowned out by protesters calling for more border security and deportations, according to the New York Times. Many of the protesters used racist and sexist language. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), one of the first Muslim women to join Congress, along with Ilhan Omar, had to speak over a protester yelling, “We don’t want Muslims here.”

“You can all scream at me,” Tlaib said. “I will never stop speaking truth to power.”

These Trumpster protestors sound exactly like some of the officers whose social media use has been exposed by these investigative media reports. It is a disease that is spread through social media, especially from our racist Twitter-troll-in-chief.