Many current and retired officers spent the year condemning chiefs who took a knee or officers who marched with Black Lives Matter demonstrators, whom they referred to as “terrorists” or “thugs” in a private Facebook community called the Pittsburgh Area Police Breakroom. In a forum marketed as a place for officers to “decompress, vent, and exchange thoughts,” they made transphobic posts and bullied participants who supported anti-police brutality demonstrators or Joe Biden.
Many of the daily posts were jokes about the difficulties of becoming a cop, memorials to fallen coworkers, or discussions about training and equipment. However, over the course of the group’s nearly four-year lifespan, a number of members became more outspoken, sharing pro-Donald Trump memes and harsh criticism of those considered to support so-called “demoncrats,” Black Lives Matter, or coronavirus protection steps.
Tim Huschak, a corporal with the Borough of Lincoln Police Department, shared a screenshot of an Allegheny County 911 dispatcher’s Facebook page in June, claiming that the term “Blue Lives Matter” used by law enforcement advocates is not the same as the slogan “Black Lives Matter” because policing is an option, not a given. “Many derogatory posts on police,” he wrote. And we’re supposed to put our lives in her hands???”
Some enraged members immediately banded together and coordinated a series of phone calls to her boss, requesting that she be fired.
“It should be reported by several officers. Remember, NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE,” West Mifflin Borough Police Department officer Tommy Trieu, who goes by the Facebook handle Tommy Bear, replied.
Last year, Trieu was one of two West Mifflin officers caught on camera restraining a 15-year-old Black girl after responding to a call about a brawl on a school bus. Activists requested that the officers be dismissed, but borough officials argued that the recording began after a student struck an officer and that the officers “did nothing wrong.”
A few members of the group were even bullied or deleted from the page, including an officer who believed the Fraternal Order of Police’s Trump endorsement did not represent her and a Black officer suspected of creating a fake Facebook account to complain about the lack of diversity in local police forces.
The Associated Press was able to access posts and comments from the party, which has 2,200 members, including around a dozen current and former police chiefs, as well as at least one judge and one councilman from Allegheny County and several nearby areas extending into Ohio. The community seemed to have been removed or suspended from view after the AP started asking about posts last week.
When contacted by the Associated Press, Lincoln Borough Police Chief Richard Bosco said Huschak was not allowed to speak to the media due to departmental policy. He said that the officer is well-known in the neighborhood and that he was unaware that others had posted insults under his post or that things had “gotten out of control.”
Bosco said, “He acknowledged the concerns and he deleted the message.” “There is and must be a higher professional standard for police, especially when it comes to social media,” says the author.
Trieu justified his statement, telling the Associated Press that he was actually reminding other officers in the organization that, just as community members might complain about officers, dispatchers can file a grievance with their supervisor if they fear for their safety.
After a summer of demonstrations demanding an end to police violence and racial discrimination in policing, and pro-Trump protests in January that resulted in a violent siege on the Capitol, concerns about overt bias on officers’ social media pages were revived last year.
(Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)
The private Facebook page showed embattled officers hostile to criticism and doubling down on current policing, with many posts and comments potentially breaching any department social media policies prohibiting disparaging comments about race, expressing racism, or harassing anyone.
Joe Hoffman, a West Mifflin Borough Police officer, blamed Webster, Massachusetts, Police Chief Michael Shaw for lying on his stomach on the steps of his station for about eight minutes — a reference to George Floyd being held on the ground when he was killed by Minneapolis cops.
“If you are a law enforcement officer who kneels or lies on the ground too easily over the false narrative of police brutality, you will one day be executed on your knees or stomach without a struggle by the same offenders that you are now pandering to,” he wrote, naming the group “Black Lies Matter.”
Requests for clarification left with the police department or a phone number identified in Hoffman’s name were not returned.
In another post, a now-retired Pittsburgh cop spoke about being trapped in traffic for hours in June 2018 after demonstrators took over a highway days after a former East Pittsburgh cop shot and killed 17-year-old Antwon Rose while fleeing a traffic stop. Other officers said the officer shouldn’t hesitate to use deadly force because he’d be defending himself, while others said police should clear the protesters with dogs and water cannons, a reference to police tactics during civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s.
When Bell Acres Councilman Gregory Wagner tried to drive through a crowd near PNC Park during the 2018 rally, two people were injured. Wagner was merely “trying to get away from a violent, TERRORISTIC crowd,” according to one retired Pittsburgh police officer who expressed support for his actions after his arrest on Facebook.
One of the Facebook group’s four administrators was Mount Pleasant Township Police Chief Lou McQuillan, who recently declared his candidacy for a vacant magisterial district judgeship.