The San Jose Police Department said it has placed four police officers on administrative leave. It is investigating allegations that they posted racist and anti-Muslim messages in a private Facebook group.
"We have no place for this," SJPD chief Eddie Garcia said in a written statement. A spokesperson for the police department did not identify the officers.
"While I have no control over what former employees post online, I can voice my outrage after hearing about these comments made online. Any current employee involved with bigoted activity online will promptly be investigated and held accountable to the fullest extent in my power," he said.
An FBI official told NPR that the bureau is in contact with the SJPD and is aware of the investigation into the officers' reported comments on social media.
"If in the course of the local investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal crime, the FBI is prepared to investigate," the FBI official said.
Allegations in Medium post
The allegations against the San Francisco Bay Area officers stem from an anonymous article on the website Medium.
The author, identified only as the partner of an active law enforcement officer in the area, detailed how retired and current officers in the San Jose Police Department allegedly use the private group called 10-7ODSJ to "freely express their true thoughts and ideas."
The name "10-7ODSJ" is a reference to the police code for off duty, The Mercury News reported.
"In closely reading their posts, it is very disturbing to find how much hate, prejudice and racism they harbor," the author of the Medium post said.
For example, the article flagged a comment from a current SJPD motor officer reportedly saying that "Black lives don't really matter."
That same officer allegedly wrote an anti-Muslim comment about a woman who filed a lawsuit against the Ventura County Sheriff's Office saying that deputies forced her to remove her hijab while in custody.
"Hell, I would have pulled it over her face," the officer wrote, according to the Medium article.
A retired officer reportedly added, "I say re-purpose the hijabs into nooses." That officer also posted an offensive image of a fake advertisement for a "Sharia Barbie," with a line saying "stoning accessories available."
The Medium post also alleged that an officer currently assigned to SJPD's training unit posted a message in 2015 "that racially profiles and stereotypes all Muslims as being terrorists." The training unit is responsible for instruction combating race-bias policing, according to the post.
Police union says "no place...for racists or bigots"
The local police union is taking steps to distance itself from the reported comments in the private group.
"There is no place in our police department or our union for racists or bigots or those that enable them by not speaking up," Paul Kelly, the president of the San Jose Police Officers' Association, said in a video statement.
He added that the association will provide "no shelter, no protection" to any current officers who took part in the Facebook group.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is calling for an investigation, and said that if current officers are found to have made such comments, they should be fired.
"I demand and expect a full investigation, and further expect that racist, anti-Muslim or menacing comments expressed by any current SJPD Officer will be met with termination," Liccardo said in a statement.
The mayor recently unveiled a nine-point plan for enhancing police accountability, which include proposals for making the arbitration process of firing and disciplining officers more transparent, broadening the authority of the independent police auditor in use-of-force allegations against officers and calling for a public audit of police expenditures.
Community activists in San Jose want the changes to go even further.
Raj Jayadev, the co-coordinator of the social justice group Silicon Valley De-Bug, said racism is "deeply ingrained" in the police department's culture. His group is calling for dismantling of the police department.