The days of holding uniformed officers accountable have just begun to get even tougher — and one California city has seven police officers to show for it. On Friday, Police Chief Greg Suhr confirmed rumors that the San Francisco Police Department may fire as many as seven of its officers for sending racist texts and homophobic messages on their work phones. An eighth officer had also resigned over the allegations.
"There is also no place in the SFPD for any officer capable of the thinking expressed in these hateful text messages," said Suhr in a statement Friday. "The officers responsible for the reprehensible texts should be separated from the SFPD as soon as practical." Suhr said that the rest of his department were "fine, right-minded men and women" with "impeccable character" who expected their colleagues to be held to the highest standard.
The text messages, which were discovered in the course of an FBI investigation into former city police sergeant Ian Furminger, have prompted San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón to also launch a full investigation into the seven participating officers in order to determine whether the sentiments expressed in the messages had been the cause of any improper conduct by the accused officers while handling criminal cases. In a comment to Reuters, Gascón said he planned to go back as far as 10 years.
The texts in question contained hateful language about blacks, Latinos, Filipinos, Native Americans, and the LGBT community. According to the Los Angeles Times, former Police Sgt. Ian Furminger, had written at length about his disdain for the black community as well as his hatred for President Obama, to which as many as 14 officers had replied in similar veins.
"Cross burning lowers blood pressure! I did the test myself," wrote Furminger in one of the discovered text messages. "Ask my six-year-old what he thinks about Obama," read another. Furminger also texted a colleague saying that all black people must "f***ing hang." In a December 2011 text, he wrote that Filipinos were "disgusting."
The paper was unable to obtain police documents regarding the other officers, but it's a safe bet that the tone of their replies was likely the same.
The revelation comes on the heels of a particularly taxing few months: on March 4, the U.S. Department of Justice released its full report on the court and judicial systems of the city of Ferguson, Mo. and the results were no less shocking. Rampant corruption, widespread racism, and inappropriate conduct plagued the small town that had acted as the stage for a major criminal investigation against a city officer in August 2014. And although a grand jury decided against indicting Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old black teen Michael Brown, officials were less than kind to his fellow officers and court officials, several of whom had been caught specifically targeting minorities in order to raise city funding through citations and fees.
San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi indicated that he would be investigating as many as 1,000 files involving the accused officers, reported The New York Times on Friday. In a statement to reporters, he indicated that the lighthearted tone of the messages was more than a little concerning:
The characterization of these hateful statements as innocent banter is dead wrong. This casual dehumanization leads to real-life suffering and injustice. It foments a toxic environment in which citizens fear and distrust the police, brutality reigns, and good officers are less effective.
Training and reinforcement is the only way to ensure that racial bias by police does not harm our citizenry.
Adachi suggested that officers who were party to offensive language or joking should take it as their personal responsibility to report the behavior or suffer consequences themselves.
The release on Friday of hateful email messages out of Ferguson employee accounts as well has only served to bolster the idea of further transparency and accountability in police departments nationwide.
In a biting statement on Friday, Suhr indicated that the police officers accused of sending the racist and homophobic texts were "despicable."
"[They] clearly fall below the minimum standards required to be a police officer," he said.
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