When Police Officers Vent on Facebook

The overarching question was, “Is this a post that might erode public trust in policing?” And there are a number of subcategories — obviously if a post appears to endorse or celebrate or glorify violence, either vigilante violence or excessive force used by officers — that, we think, would erode public trust in policing. Posts that show bias against a certain group of people, posts that use dehumanizing language, calling people animals or savages or subhuman, that would count.

What did you find out?

Critical mass means a lot of things, but there is enough of this that I can’t see it as a bad apple problem anymore. I see it as a cultural problem.

One of the reasons that I don’t think it’s an individual problem is that these folks are talking to each other. There are a lot of posts that have eight comments underneath them, and three of those comments are by other police officers, and in those long comment threads you often see a kind of piling on. If one guy makes a comment that’s sort of violent, another guy will say, “Oh, that’s not enough, I would have hit him harder.” “I would have shot him.” “I would have killed him.”

It creates a space where officers feel like this is what they should do or think, and I fear that leads more officers to do and think this stuff.

It’s not a statistical sample; it’s not a statistical study.

In the Buzzfeed article, there’s a former police officer in Baltimore who says this language needs to be taken in the context of the job — it may just be expressions of officers who are recognizing the dangers of the profession and saying, “I have your back.” What did you think of that?

I disagree with him on that. I think that, especially in posts that show some sort of bias against a group of people, it’s hard for me to understand how that is showing that I have your back. It might show that “I have your back, you other white officer.” But what does that say to everyone else?

Yes, police officers have an incredibly hard job. There’s probably an incredible amount of PTSD; there’s an incredible amount of stress. But it’s not O.K. then to say, “Let’s go get these animals tonight.”

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