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NYC Council Pushes For Changes On How NYPD Officers Use Social Media Accounts

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The New York City Council held a special hearing focused on how NYPD officers and officials use social media in the department after allegations of improper usage.

Things got heated during the May 9 hearing after the department was accused of using social media accounts to target public officials and private citizens inappropriately. Chief of Patrol John Chell and Deputy Commissioners Kaz Daughtry and Tarik Sheppard were scheduled to testify but didn’t show up for the hearing.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams was prepared to grill Chell on the stand regarding a post on Twitter where he called City Council member Tiffany Cabán’s criticism of the NYPD’s response to the Columbia University protest “garbage,” labeling her as a “colossal disgrace.” Adams has requested the Department of Investigation launch an investigation into the department’s use of official social media accounts: 250 accounts in total.

NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban defended his officials’ social media usage. “I give my executives autonomy to speak directly to the public, and they do that through social media and I can also tell you that my executives are very passionate about what they do in their bureaus,” he said. But after Chell took to Twitter to admit that the department would use all social media platforms to confront anti-police rhetoric and won’t apologize for it, critics think things have gone too far. 

Adams, along with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Comptroller Brad Lander, and others, sent a letter to New York City mayor and retired police captain Eric Adams, urging him to discipline Chell and other officers accused of abusing social media access, according to Politico. By Chell telling his followers “You know what to do,” in regards to potentially voting out Cabán, officials say the tweet is a conflict of interest. 

The group denounced Chell’s “completely unacceptable, undemocratic, illegal, dangerous, and false attack.” However, Mayor Adams decided to stand by his former colleagues, calling NYPD “the kindest and the gentlest and the most loving police department on the globe.” 

After it was announced that an investigation was launched into NYPD’s “social media use and exchanges,” a spokesperson from Mayor Adams’ office pushed back, saying they hope the investigation includes City Council members as well. “It is clear that a small number of advocates and council members—who have gone unchallenged in using their social media to make disparaging comments against the hardworking public servants of our city—only support speech that is politically convenient for them,” the spokesperson said.

The Legal Aid Society welcomed the investigation, claiming the posts have “served as a cudgel to spread misinformation, malign protesters, chill future protests.” 

In one now-deleted post, NYPD officials misidentified a judge, criticizing them for releasing a convicted criminal without bail. “When a precinct commander has a social media account, he is the one that decides what is going to go out and how they are going to inform the community,” NYPD Assistant Commissioner Carlos Nieves said. 

Chell refuses to apologize for his attacks on Cabán. “I would rather not do that, but when you come out with a statement a day after what these cops did in the city, the night before, for these campuses, I will take a stand,” Chell said in an early May interview. 

“If that person can incite violence against a duly elected official, what makes it so that every other rank-and-file officer can’t do the same?” Cabán said. “What does that say about the level of force, privilege and control that they think that they have over just regular, everyday citizens? That should be very scary to people.”