Updated at 6:40 p.m.
ST. LOUIS — Mayor Lyda Krewson announced Friday that several city police officers who posted “inappropriate and disturbing” Facebook messages were put on administrative duty earlier this week amid an internal affairs investigation.
“That means that they are not on the street,” the mayor said in a telephone interview. “It’s a matter of not interacting with residents and businesses on the street.”
Krewson said the officers reassigned to inside work for now were tied to “the most egregious” of the posts, which were disclosed by a Philadelphia-based organization called the Plain View Project.
The Plain View organization reported on numerous Facebook posts by police here and in other parts of the country that were racist, anti-Muslim and violent. Hundreds of posts by 22 current St. Louis officers and 21 former officers were among those in the report.
Some of the St. Louis posts display the Confederate flag and question whether Black History Month is racist. Others tout the roughing up of protesters, use homophobic wording and express disgust for Islam.
Krewson didn’t specify the number of officers pulled from outside duty but Jeff Roorda, business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said he heard it was four or five.
The announcement of the street-duty pullback followed statements earlier this week that police next week would begin a new round of sensitivity training and training instruction on the city’s social media policy.
In addition, the city personnel director has said he will require all 7,200 merit-system employees to get additional training on social media, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment rules, not just police.
Krewson spoke in the interview a few hours after she and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards briefed a dozen or so aldermen on her administration’s response to the Plain View Project disclosures. The meeting, in an aldermanic office area, wasn’t announced in advance.
She said in the interview that in addition to explaining the street-duty pullback, she and Edwards said “we are continuing to look at the rest of the officers (on the Plain View list) and figure out what the appropriate response is.”
She said they also discussed the “anti-bias cultural competency training” planned for police although she observed that “it’s hard to tell what’s in people’s hearts.”
“We think it helps; we think it is the right thing to do,” the mayor said.
Krewson said she and Edwards also discussed the city’s social media restrictions for employees begun last year. The mayor said also that “a number of the aldermen” expressed concern and distress at the revelations in the Plain View Project report.
One alderman who attended, Shameem Clark Hubbard, D-26th Ward, said in an interview that she was encouraged to hear that some officers involved no longer were on the street.
She added that “we were fully educated” about the sensitivity training. She said some people have perceived that as too soft a response to the racist Facebook posts. “I do have several emails asking them to be fired and things of that nature,” she said.
Overall, Clark Hubbard said, “I was satisfied with what I heard.”
Alderman Heather Navarro, D-28th Ward, said it was apparent to her from the meeting that Edwards is committed “to addressing implicit bias and racism.”
“I think he understands this is more than just a violation of a social media policy,” she said. “It’s critical for public safety that we have trust between citizens and our police officers. When something like this comes to light, it impacts that community trust.’’
The internal affairs investigation was announced Monday by police. On Friday, Police Chief John Hayden said on Twitter that the investigation has “a discipline range of re-instruction to dismissal for sustained allegations.”
City officials earlier this week that said previous probes of violations of social media restrictions had resulted in discipline for some police officers and other employees, including the firing of two public safety workers.
Roorda, the police association official, declined to comment Friday on the current investigation.
“We’re going to let the internal affairs process run its course,” he said of the association. “Regulating free speech is a dicey business.”
Roorda also declined to comment on the Facebook posts in the Plain View Project report. “I don’t think it’s my place to decide what’s offensive and what’s not offensive,” he said. “It’s just not my place to say.”
Alderman Joe Vaccaro, D-23rd Ward, complained about the mayor and Edwards’ session with aldermen, calling it a secret meeting that wasn’t announced to the public in advance.
He said he left the gathering after he expressed his concern about it. The session was before Friday’s weekly meeting of the full Board of Aldermen.
“This should have been done in an open forum,” he said. He said one would be a meeting Monday of the aldermanic Public Safety Commitee, which he chairs. He said the committee will take comments from the public about the social media controversy.
Vaccaro said he has invited Edwards and Hayden to the Monday meeting, which will be at 1 p.m. in the Kennedy hearing room at City Hall.
Krewson said Alderman Christine Ingrassia, D-6th Ward, had asked Edwards to meet with her and other board members. The mayor said Edwards then asked her to be there as well. She said aldermen meet with her in her office all the time on various subjects.