San Francisco: Nearly 400 current and former police officers read and contribute to Facebook groups that promote a range of extremist ideologies including Islamophobia and racism, according to a new investigation by non-profit news organisation Reveal.
These officers work in jails and schools and airports, on boats and trains and in patrol cars and many of them also contribute to groups such as "White Lives Matter" and "DEATH TO ISLAM UNDERCOVER", said Reveal, which is run by the US Center for Investigative Reporting.
While some of these groups trade in anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant memes, some are openly Islamophobic, while others are misogynistic or anti-government militia groups.
The investigation identified 150 officers involved with violent anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, said the report on Friday.
After the findings, more than 50 departments launched internal investigations. Some departments said that they would examine the past conduct of officers to see if their online activity influenced their policing in real life.
At least one officer has already been fired for violating department policies, the report said.
"Most of the hateful Facebook groups these cops frequent are closed, meaning only members are allowed to see content posted by other members," said the report.
The investigation revealed that one guard at the Angola prison in Louisiana, Geoffery Crosby, was a member of 56 extremist groups, including 45 Confederate groups and one called "BAN THE NAACP" while a detective at the Harris County Sheriff's Office in Houston, James "J.T." Thomas, was a member of the closed Facebook group "The White Privilege Club."
Biased views like those expressed in these Facebook groups inevitably influence an individual's decision-making process, according to Peter Simi, Associate Professor of Sociology at Chapman University.
"The perceptions we have about the world at large drive the decisions we make," Simi, who has studied extremist groups for more than 20 years, was quoted as saying.
"To think that people could completely separate these extremist right-wing views from their actions just isn't consistent with what we know about the decision-making process," Simi added.