DOWNTOWN – Appalled and embarrassed. Those are the words being used by St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards about racist and bigoted social media posts from a number of police officers, first reported by The Northsider/Southsider and MetroSTL.com.
But while Edwards is preaching accountability for the officers named in the report by Philadelphia’s Plain View Project, he is also quick to point out what he describes as limitations in what he can do.
“If you occasion in racist behaviors, if you’re expressing your implicit biases, that’s a problem for me,” Edwards said in an interview last week.
He said that something such as this could be a blow to the relationship between police officers and the public, even calling it potentially dangerous.
“I am obviously very concerned with trust. I’m very concerned that our officers project the appropriate messaging, and quite frankly I don’t want police officers that are on the street, supposedly assigned to a particular community, and they detest that community. Well, that doesn’t make sense. It’s wrong.”
But when asked if the officers involved would or should be fired, Edwards stopped short.
“I can go back, maybe get the FBI involved and look at every post that occurred with a city officer going back without setting any type of time frame. I suspect that that would be met with lots of opposition, lots of lawsuits. We just can’t do that. I’m constrained by the law.”
He does leave a crack in the door, however, as far as job action goes.
“What’s been presented to me now, I will take a look at,” he said. “And so there may be consequences. I would not have sent it to (the Internal Affairs Division) if there was no possibility of some action being taken.”
On Friday, St. Louis pulled several of the police officers off the streets and assigned them to desk jobs.
Edwards said one of his major limitations was the fact that most of the posts in question occurred prior to the department’s implementation of a social media policy. That policy went into effect in September 2017.
He said that in the time since the policy was instituted he had fired at least two public safety employees for violating it. He said they had lost their jobs “for much less” than what was posted in the Plain View material. He would not elaborate on what was said in the posts, nor who had been fired. Edwards stressed that, going forward, that policy would continue to be strictly enforced and should prevent anything like this from happening in the future.
“It is a very, very broad policy,” he said. “It addresses the use of social media on our devices as well as personal devices, and so it extends to you posting or just forwarding a post, or even liking a post.”
In the interim, sensitivity training will be conducted, starting with the department’s sergeants. Eventually the entire force is expected to be put through the program. Edwards said it was important because police officers needed to be held to a different standard.
“I think that they have to be better than your general citizen,” Edwards declared. “They have to be better than all of us because we invest in them. We have expectations of them. They have what we call a fiduciary responsibility, and so they don’t get a chance to be racist. They don’t get a chance to express their implicit biases because I hold them accountable. When you do that, then in my mind you’re no longer fit to be a police officer. At a minimum we have to fix you.”
But he said that need for “fixing” pointed to a larger problem in St. Louis.
“We have a very ‘racialized’ community that I am hoping we are going to be able to fix at every level. And this is not an excuse for our police officers. I’m appalled. I’m embarrassed. I take it very, very seriously. There is nothing there is no joke in any of this stuff. It’s hurtful, and it can be dangerous.”