ST. LOUIS — The city police department’s internal affairs division is investigating allegations that some current and former police officers made racist, violent and anti-Muslim Facebook posts.
Mayor Lyda Krewson on Monday called the reported Facebook posts “disturbing and unacceptable” and the Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is demanding that city police go through sensitivity training.
The posts were disclosed by a Philadelphia-based organization called the Plain View Project in a study of Facebook posts by current and former officers in St. Louis and seven other jurisdictions around the country.
The group’s database surveyed more than 5,000 Facebook posts from 3,500 Facebook accounts of current and former officers in the eight departments.
The research project began in 2017 and used rosters of police officers and then verified their Facebook accounts, according to the group’s website.
Forty-three accounts are tied to St. Louis police officers on the Plain View site, according to the project’s founder, Emily Baker-White. Twenty-two of those are tied to current police officers with the metropolitan police department, and 21 of them are former officers.
“I am depressed by the findings and I think we need to do better,” Baker-White said of the posts aggregated from the eight jurisdictions across the country. “I think there are enough of these posts out there that this doesn’t seem like a ‘bad apples’ problem, it seems like a culture problem … I fear that people in these communities might be less likely to ask an officer for help. They aren’t calling 911 when they need protection because they fear police officers aren’t in their corner.”
Some of the St. Louis-based Facebook posts display the Confederate flag and question whether Black History Month is racist. Others celebrate the roughing up of protesters and the shooting of criminals, objectify women and mock foreign accents.
Others use homophobic language, mock the Black Lives Matter movement and express disgust for Islam.
St. Louis Sgt. Ron Hasty, head of the city’s trash task force, is named by the Plain View Project in connection with the Facebook profile “Ron Nighthawk.” Thirty different posts appear under that name within the Plain View Project site.
When asked about CAIR’s characterization of the selected social media posts as racist, Hasty replied, “Well, that’s what they’re claiming, but last I checked I had First Amendment rights.”
“I’m not a racist,” Hasty continued. “You can talk to any of my friends.”
Hasty won two Medal of Valor awards from the Crusade Against Crime in 2006 and 2007. And he was named the St. Louis Police Department’s Officer of the Year in 2006.
St. Louis Police Officers’ Association’s Business Manager Jeff Roorda said the police union has contacted CAIR “in the hopes of meeting with them.”
Roorda was unavailable for an interview, but sent a prepared statement.
“Until the source of the posts is verified and authenticated, we’re not going to comment on any speculation that any of these posts originated with police officers who we represent,” he wrote.
Krewson, in a statement, said the city adopted a social media policy last September “to leave no doubt that such posts are not acceptable and to create accountability.”
“We expect professionalism out of every City employee,” the mayor said.
The policy deals with both employee use of the city’s “technology resources” and with “personal use of social media.”
The personal use section includes a warning that employees shall not post content “that disparages a person or group of persons” based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and several other factors.
The policy also says employees should not post content “that threatens violence.”
The rules were included in a revised and reissued administrative regulation.
Christine Byers of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.