Police Commissioner Richard Ross said there was an intent to fire 13 of the suspended employees after a watchdog group uncovered comments made on the social media platform from officers in Philadelphia and seven other US police departments.
The team of researchers found officers bashing immigrants and Muslims, promoting racist stereotypes, identifying with right-wing militia groups and glorifying police brutality in public posts.
Examples included posts with the words “Death to Islam,” referring to black people as “thugs,” and homophobic memes which referenced violence, said Mr Ross, who called the sentiments “sickening”.
He said: “I continue to be very disappointed and angered by these posts, many of which violate basic human decency. We need to move past this ridiculous hate that has consumed this country and has done so for centuries.”
Investigation by the department led to 72 officers being placed on administrative leave in June, before police chiefs decided to suspend 17 of them, Mr Ross explained.
Almost all now face some form of disciplinary action, he said, with 13 expected to be dismissed.
Officers who were on track to be fired made posts or comments that advocated violence or death “against any protected class such as ethnicity, national origin, sex, religion and race” or worked to “erode the trust necessary for a police department to carry out its core mission,” Mr Ross said.
He said the department look at several factors when deciding on firings, including the officers’ constitutional rights and the integrity of the department.
“Building trust will always be our top priority,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney Kenney, who said the posts were deeply disturbing. “We will not allow this terrible incident to break down the progress we’ve made.”
The police department is now looking at software that they could use to track and audit officers’ social media postings.
John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia police union, said the Fraternal Order of Police is disappointed that the officers will be terminated without due process, but said it condemns racist and hateful speech in any form.
“We are currently meeting with each officer to prepare an appropriate response to protect our members’ rights under the contract,” he said in a statement. “The overwhelming majority of our members serve this city with integrity and professionalism.”
In Phoenix, Police Chief Jeri Williams has moved some officers to “non-enforcement” assignments while the department probes Facebook posts that she called “embarrassing and disturbing”.
The database included nearly 180 posts tied to current Phoenix police officers that disparage Muslims, black people, transgender people and other groups.
Additional reporting by agencies