Phoenix police union president Michael Britt London downplayed criticism of Phoenix police officers' Facebook posts as a "hunt for a negative spin" that does not represent the thousands of officers who work for the department.
But his own spin makes light of the seriously offensive and racist nature of some of the posts and ignores the fact that several of the officers whose posts were included in the database also have a history of violence and dishonesty.
"Every day, we use social media to better connect and better understand our city," London told the Arizona Republic (he did not respond to a phone call and email from Phoenix New Times). "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."
London also said cops have used Facebook to raise money for fallen officers, but that the Plain View Project didn't include those posts in the database they created in an effort to catalog bigotry and racism among police officers nationwide.
The database includes 282 posts from 97 current and former Phoenix police officers. The posts show Phoenix police officers 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.
On Wednesday, a New Times investigation found four of the officers whose posts were included in the database had also been accused of killing people. Seven of the officers have been accused of seriously injuring people, including one officer, Timothy Baiardi, who was charged with assault last month for punching a detained suspect in the face.
Thirty-one of the 97 officers whose posts made the database had been named in lawsuits, mostly for excessive force, while eight were included in the Maricopa County Attorney's Brady list, a list of police officers who are so notoriously unreliable and dishonest that prosecutors must disclose the officer's reputation to defense lawyers.
“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,” said London.
Yet the 282 posts only scratch the surface of what Phoenix police officers are saying online. If officers have sensible privacy settings on their Facebook profiles, their posts would not make it into the database, as the database simply cataloged what posts were publicly available.
For instance, Police Sergeant Gary Gombar had one of the more gruesome posts in the database. He commented on one video with a photo of a bloodied truck with a mangled corpse stuck to the front captioned, "Just drove through Ferguson. Didn't see any problems."
But Gombar's wife, Stefani Gombar, is also a police sergeant. Her posts were not included in the database due to her privacy settings, but someone who is friends with Gombar on Facebook (and therefore has greater access to her posts) shared a screenshot of one of her posts with New Times.
"Something to think about for those of you who put ALL officers in a pile," wrote Stefani Gombar alongside a post of a 911 dispatcher refusing to help someone in an emergency because that person had once criticized the police.
None of London's posts are included in the database, though some of former Phoenix police union president Mark Spencer's were. London's Facebook privacy settings are strict. What he has shared publicly does not show the poor judgment and bigotry that pervaded many of the Facebook posts included in the Plain View Project's database.
One of his most recent posts, however, does attempt to paint the media as irresponsible for failing to report on the sentencing of Marc Payne, who is accused of hitting three Phoenix police officers with a car. But as a quick Google search shows, dozens of local news outlets did cover Payne's sentencing.
Spencer, the former Phoenix police union president, took to Facebook to criticize the Plain View Project for digging up officers' posts, noting that three of his posts were included in the database for his statements about Islam and pro-choice protesters.
"Did any of the news outlets happen to do a records request to cross reference these "racist" and evil officers complaint history, race contact percentage, use of force..etc..Bet they won't because there will be no news there, they are all stand up guys," wrote one person in the comments section of Spencer's post, apparently missing the fact that the Phoenix police department takes months to respond to records requests — and that New Times did look more deeply into the background of each of the officers in the database and found many had a history of being violent or dishonest.
"Chief Williams sent out a notice (ENS) last night reminding the PPD of the Department's Social media policy," wrote someone going by the Facebook name "Bill Wren."
Some of Spencer's other posts question the NFL for allowing male dancers, defend a police officer who shot a 14-year-old, referred to Phoenix police as a "gang," and defended a deputy under investigation for sexual harassment. He has also expressed support for Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator and provocateur who has attacked Muslims, women, transgender people, and homosexuals.
Phoenix police chief Jeri Williams said the department's Professional Standards Bureau will review the Facebook posts for potential misconduct. Tuesday, Williams said she has taken officers who made particularly egregious posts off of their "enforcement assignments" and placed them on desk duty, though she declined to specify which officers or how many.
But police shooting victims and their families are skeptical that the officers will actually face any consequences for their actions and plan to hold a rally outside of Phoenix police headquarters today.
"I think this whole review for the Professional Standards Bureau is a joke. They're not firing anybody. One cop already was reviewed by internal affairs and they decided it wasn't misconduct," said Roland Harris, whose son, Jacob Harris, was shot and killed by Phoenix police officers in January. "When you stand by silently and allow your fellow officers to brutalize the community, you're just as guilty as them."
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.