At least 20 offensive comments on Facebook that called West Indian Day parade-goers “savages” and “animals,” may have been made by NYPD officers, the police commissioner said Wednesday.
“It is disturbing when anyone denigrates a community with hateful speech,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said on Wednesday in a statement. “It is unacceptable when police officers do it.”
Kelly said the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau began interviewing the identified officers and subpoenaing computer records.
The results of the IAB investigation will be submitted to the Department Advocate for possible administrative charges.
Those could include charges of “conduct unbecoming of an officer.” While this is a broad charge, it can be used as a sanction against officers who make offensive or racist comments, Paul Browne, spokesman for the NYPD, told WNYC.
Browne could not confirm if the department had an official social media policy, but did say officers were prohibited from externally sharing “any information they pick-up while on active duty.”
At a press conference on Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the situation was “concerning,” but emphasized it was necessary to let the police department conduct its investigation.
“If it’s true, it’s totally inappropriate,” Bloomberg said. “And I could use lots of other words to describe it.”
The “No More West Indian Day Detail” Facebook page, which had more than 1,000 followers, was discovered by Benjamin Moore and Paul Lieberman, lawyers for the Brooklyn Defender Services, who represented a man arrested for gun possession near the Brooklyn parade route in 2010.
The page was taken offline shortly after the discovery, but the lawyers saved the data from the page.
Moore and Lieberman said their client, Tyrone Johnson, was acquitted last month in part because, they argued, the arresting officer, who was a member of the Facebook page, might have been biased. (That officer did not make any comments.)
Many commenters, identifying themselves as cops who worked on the West Indian Day Parade, complained about being put in harm’s way and called on Bloomberg to shut it down. One commenter called the parade a “ghetto training” for officers.
Several commenters said they were instructed not to arrest people for smoking marijuana or drinking – something they said only applied to this parade.
Councilman Jumaane Williams, at a press conference on City Hall steps Wednesday, said it wasn’t enough that the IAB was looking into the incident and that it points to a larger problem about the NYPD’s treatment of minority communities.
“We need an acknowledgment of a problem,” Williams said. “We need an acknowledgment of a systemic issue within the NYPD.”
He and other Council members said they would like to see an external body provide oversight for the NYPD rather than the IAB. That agency, they suggested, should be under the Department of Investigations and get more funding than the IAB does currently.
Bob Hennelly, Kathleen Horan, Mirela Iverac and Claudia Morell contributed to this report.