When Police Officers Vent on Facebook

Emily Baker-White’s systemic look at officers on social media found thousands of racist, Islamophobic or otherwise offensive posts. Here’s how (and why) she did it.

“It’s a good day for a chokehold,” one officer wrote. Another equated black people with dogs. Still another compared women in hijabs to trash bags.

These public posts on Facebook, written by police officers in eight departments across the country, were among those identified as offensive by the Plain View Project, a new database chronicling officers’ use of social media. The departments were chosen to reflect a range of sizes and geographic regions: Dallas; Denison, Tex.; Lake County, Fla.; Philadelphia; Phoenix; St. Louis; Twin Falls, Idaho; and York, Pa.

The researchers began with about 14,400 names of officers. Of those, they were able to verify Facebook profiles for about 2,800 current officers and nearly 700 more people who had once worked for those eight departments. About one in five of the current officers, including many in supervisory roles, and more than two in five former officers, used content that was racist, misogynist, Islamophobic or otherwise biased, or that undermined the concept of due process, the project found.A deeper look by Buzzfeed and Injustice Watch discovered that in Philadelphia, almost a third of the officers whose posts were flagged were the subject of civil rights and brutality complaints that ended in settlements or verdicts for the plaintiffs.