NYPD brass refuse to answer Council questions on controversial social media posts during tense hearing

NEW YORK — After two months of speaking their minds on social media, NYPD officials were tight-lipped about their controversial posts at a City Council hearing Thursday as two department executives responsible for most of the tweets were no-shows.

NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell and Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry skipped the morning budget hearing even though they’d been scheduled to attend. Mayor Eric Adams’ office told them at the last minute not appear, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

Around 7 a.m. Thursday, the mayor’s office told the duo not to show up, fearing that the hearing would turn into a “circus” over their tweets that some Council members claim violate departmental policy, are inflammatory and potentially dangerous, the sources told the Daily News.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Tarik Sheppard also skipped the hearing, though he’d been scheduled to attend, too.

While the department has traditionally used social media to spread word about good arrests and tips on how to fight crime, Chell began using the platform to criticize judges he believed were soft on crime in March.

Since then, he and Daughtry have been lobbing critical tweets against journalists, columnists and elected officials they disagree with. The department previously said it was “correcting the narrative” on social media, which they believe was skewed against police.

Sheppard and the mayor have supported the new social media tactic.

At the hearing, neither Police Commissioner Edward Caban nor Michael Gerber, the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters, would comment on Chell and Daughtry’s posts, citing an ongoing investigation into the matter by the city’s Department of Investigation.

“It’s inappropriate to comment as the investigation is ongoing” Caban said.

But the DOI said there isn’t a gag order on the investigation, so the department could have spoken about the posts if officials wished.

“DOI has not instructed NYPD to refrain from speaking about its social media use during our ongoing investigation,” said DOI spokeswoman Diane Struzzi.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said NYPD brass should have addressed the controversial posts.

“I find it very appropriate given what I’m looking at,” she said at the hearing as she looked over posts on X including one put out by Chell that blasted progressive Councilwoman Tiffany Caban. In it, he rejected her comments against the NYPD’s crackdown on Columbia University protesters as “garbage” and urged his followers to “vote the change you seek” if they dislike her, too.

“These posts can often convey inaccurate or misleading information and can potentially incite threats of violence,” said Speaker Adams, who’d called for the DOI investigation.

“I use the word potentially with caution because they have in some cases incited threats of violence to individuals,” she added. “This conduct is dangerous, unethical, unprofessional because included in the department’s mission is to preserve the peace, protect the people and reduce fear.”

City ethics law bars police officials from using city resources such as department social media accounts for blatantly political purposes. The NYPD’s patrol guide prohibits police employees from engaging in political activities while in an official capacity.

Gerber repeatedly declined to comment as Speaker Adams peppered the dias, which included First Deputy Commissioner Tania Kinsella and Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey, with questions about who was responsible for approving social media posts before they go online and if Chell and Daughtry’s tweets are examples of an ongoing change in the department’s social media policy.

“We are fully cooperative with (the DOI) investigation and its critical that the investigation be allowed to play out,” Gerber said, adding that the department doesn’t believe the post against Councilwoman Caban violated the law or the NYPD patrol guide or could be considered political activity.

“It’s part of a context of a significant debate about the nature of public safety in the city, the role of the police department and the role of policing in New York City,” Gerber said, refraining from elaborating further.

Councilwoman Caban of Queens, who attended the hearing, said Gerber and Commissioner Caban were hiding behind the DOI investigation.

“You could have and you should have answered, but you chose not to,” she said.

An email to the department for comment was not immediately returned. The mayor’s office did not return a request for comment, either.

The Legal Aid Society called the social media activities from the police officials “a clear abuse of the NYPD’s authority.”

In addition to the requests for DOI involvement, dozens of local elected officials, including members of New York’s congressional delegation, sent a letter to Mayor Adams last week demanding that he reprimand Chell for his recent social media posts.