We're two reporters who spent more than a year investigating police across the U.S. who are members of extremist groups on Facebook. Ask us anything.
Hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from across the United States are members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on Facebook, according to our latest investigation.
These cops have worked at every level of American law enforcement, from tiny, rural sheriff’s departments to the largest agencies in the country, such as the Los Angeles and New York police departments. They work in jails and schools and airports, on boats and trains and in patrol cars. And, we discovered, they also read and contribute to groups such as “White Lives Matter” and “DEATH TO ISLAM UNDERCOVER.”
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For me it was the pervasiveness of unapologetic Islamophobia. It's something that all the types of groups we looked at seemed to agree on, and it's the thing people were least ashamed of. And really shockingly, departments didn't seem to be that concerned that their officers might be prejudiced against an entire religion.
What does your work suggest about the prevalence of the problem of racism in law enforcement? How should someone think about, if at all, your results in terms of a sample of the overall number of LEOs?
I outlined some of the technical part of this in another answer, but I don't think it's possible to use our results as a statistical finding or fraction. Basically the question we started with is could we find police officers in extremist groups. The answer is definitely yes. But we certainly didn't get all the extremist groups or all the police groups, and we would never be able to confirm our findings to our own standards for all of the potential hits we could find. Also: not all police officers are on Facebook, and not all of them make it known on their Facebook page that they are police officers.
A single police officer who is empowered by society to arrest or kill someone can have a very outsized effect on a person or a community, so it's especially important that they are held to a high standard.
And now that we have reported our findings to these departments, the thing to watch is their reactions. Are they responsive? Do they take action? That to me says a lot about how committed they are to protecting the rights of the citizens they are supposed to protect and serve.
any sense that any dept will actually proactively look for this type of thing? responding when shamed into it is one thing, but there's no reason they can't replicate this work themselves, correct?
I don't know if it's something departments routinely do but they definitely could. You can no longer see inside of closed groups without joining, but many of the names of the groups make it pretty clear about the nature of the group. And many/most departments already have policies against making statements that could call into question their integrity or the reputation of the department.
I have worked with LEOs a lot over the last 20 years as a CPS caseworker. Even 1 outright racist is dangerous for everyone involved.
That being said what is it that you are hoping for now that this information is made public?
Also, I have heard of similar information gathering happening (usually drug or human trafficking related) a lot of people get 'angry' and say the research is not legit due to lack of a control group, lying, and other things. What are your thoughts on that?
Step 1 is will the departments hold these officers accountable and ask questions about their organizational culture, whether for enlightened reasons or just for self-preservation.
This isn't meant to be a statistical sampling, so there's not really a control group to be had. And Will worked incredibly diligently to confirm that these people were really police officers, so I don't think anyone can really challenge that.
Also how do you think you can change the attitudes of the ‘bad cops’, do you clean house or is there another way?
Personally that's not really my goal, though that would be nice. It's more important that officers who hold racist beliefs not be in a position to hurt or discriminate against the people they're supposed to protect. Part of that is departments holding those officers accountable and removing them. I don't think it's a secret inside police departments who are the problematic officers, but often they aren't being called out on their behavior. And part of our job is to inform the public about the evidence we found so that the public can hold these departments and elected officials accountable.
And if each department let go of each prejudice officer, would there be a problem or do you think the amount of officers lost is minor?
This is the million-dollar, bad-apple question. My father is a retired police officer, so I have personally known pretty much every type of officer out there. There are some pretty scary people out there. But to me the bigger problem is that 1) those people are allowed to stay in service and 2) there is not an acceptance that racism has always been and continues to be a problem in policing. And it is pretty hard to argue that the laws that police are employed to uphold are not part of a system that has discriminated against people of color and others. I think departments holding the really bad apples to account can set an example and maybe encourage other officers to speak up about their concerns, but I don't think we found that was a very common response to our findings.
Well good luck, I really hope your hard work pays off!
Do you think that the news industry is outdated, now that social media is so large and fast, and if so what will bring news outlets into the 21st century?
That's a very broad question, not sure if I can address all of that. I think this story came about because were able to leverage some of the tools social media made available, i.e. the Facebook API, which gave us the names of the members of these groups (they have since deprecated that capability, which probably should never have existed honestly). But the verification process required for us to definitively say that this Facebook account is really this actual police officer is very time-consuming, so I'm not sure how to speed that up.
Something that definitely could be sped up is Facebook's processes for detecting these groups and the content, and enforcing their policies against extremist content. The searches we used to find these groups were not particularly sophisticated, they could surely do the same. And as researcher Megan Squire said on Twitter (which appears to be down at the moment), she has repeatedly reported these groups, only to see Facebook take no action.
Do you believe that exposing of such officers in large groups will diminish the trust and respect of the police department? What happens to the good cops? Will they also be looked upon by an eye of suspicion?
I think the "good cops," and almost all law enforcement officers view themselves as the "good cops," need to ask themselves what are they doing to ensure that the community can trust them. I don't think any reasonable person can argue that policing hasn't been racist in the past, so why should people of color think it has changed? There is a lot of closing ranks and talks of brotherhood when these "bad apples" get discovered, but why were those "bad apples" able to exist so long? In my experience everyone in a department already knows who the problem officers are.
After all this, do you still believe police should exist?
I don't think the police are going anywhere, so the best we can do is try to hold them accountable and to make sure that the public is able to see how their governments function.
There are over 1,000,000 police officers in the USA. You’re implying there are 200 racist officers. Do the math. This is incredibly underwhelming. How does it feel to “investigate” something that doesn’t really exist? That’s my first question. My second question is what other professions did you investigate? Surely you know there are racist doctors and lawyers and fire fighters too. My third question is why are you fear mongering?
We see a lot of variations of this response, and it's a pretty common misunderstanding of how data works in this context. It's not appropriate to take the number of officers we were able to mostly confirm, which was actually about 400, and divide them into the total number of law officers in the United States, because that implies we were trying to find all of the racist police officers.
First of all, that's not what we set out to do. And Will can talk more about that.
And from a technical/logistic perspective, which is more my end, there was only so much we could do. We started out with about 15,000 raw "hits" of people that were in at least one extremist group and one police group. And shortly after we got our raw data, Facebook rather extraordinarily changed the unique identifier for all Facebook users. This meant we couldn't rely on our database of IDs and had to reconstruct by hand as many officers as we could, using their username. This dramatically reduced who we could even look at without it taking a long, long time and a lot of people.
So the way to think about the number we found is not as a numerator, but rather as look, it wasn't that hard to find a lot of police officers with extremist group membership and offensive comments. If we kept looking, we could keep finding more.
You also posted this same concept about The Wall two years ago... a Q&A... go reread your responses to people’s questions. Compare it to what we actually know now and see how bad your investigation was. You said border crossing were down. You literally lied in almost every response. I urge everyone to click on this guys profile and go read his comments from two years ago. You will see just how bad at investigating they are A, or B, they’re compulsive liars that fear monger. Don’t take my word for it, go read for yourself
I would also encourage everyone to look at my and Will's profile and to check out all our stuff at revealnews.org.
Gonna retire and get a place in Cabo. Agiprop pays so, so well. I mean, seriously? Is that really what you think we do all day? Propaganda sounds way easier and less time-consuming.
Lol Talk about Political Bias. What about the terrorist organization Antifa?
What about them?
How much did Facebook pay you to investigate cops?
I think you already can guess that the answer is no, they didn't pay us. I don't imagine they were pleased with the articles.
Do you actually consider yourselves journalists? Is it journalism to dox a bunch of active and retired cops? Is that was journalism is these days?
You're the extremists here. https://www.revealnews.org/
Are you turning a profit from your website?
1) Thanks for the website plug!
2) We are nonprofit.
3) I don't think you understand what doxing is.
Yeah, I consider myself a journalist. And I think you might want to do some research into what "doxxing" actually means. Journalists have been investigating, and revealing powerful people doing irresponsible things for hundreds of years. That's not doxxing.
Well at least someone thinks your a journalist then.
This is doxxing. - https://www.revealnews.org/article/these-police-officers-were-members-of-extremist-groups-on-facebook/
Doxing (from dox, abbreviation of documents) or doxxing is the Internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting private or identifying information (especially personally identifying information) about an individual or organization.
Yup that qualifies as doxxing.
Putting a public official's name in the paper after a year of extensive research and after giving them multiple opportunities to comment is pretty much the opposite of doxxing.
What was the most shocking part of your investigation?
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