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NYPD Chief Is Running an Online Swag Shop to ‘Fund Office Supplies Such as Water, Coffee, Snacks’

NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell calls his shop a 501(c)3 organization. It's registered as a non-charitable corporation.

NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell and the challenge coin he is selling. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office / The Cop Pop Up Shop)

Last week NYPD Chief of Department John Chell used his LinkedIn page to advertise an online store selling sweatshirts and other knickknacks branded with the logo of his office. "The newest challenge coin and apparel designs for my office just dropped," he wrote. "Check out the The Cop Pop-Up Shop" [sic], "a 501(c)(3) organization."

But Chell's claim that the Cop Pop-Up Shop is a tax-exempt charitable organization is not borne out by the Internal Revenue Service's public database of tax exempt organizations, which lists no such group. The Cop Pop Up Shop is registered as a corporation with the New York Department of State, where it is listed as a non-charitable not-for-profit corporation.

The Cop Pop Up Shop's incorporation documents, filed last September, do not shed much light on the nature or purpose of the company, saying only that "the purpose for which the corporation is formed is any purpose for which corporations may be organized under the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law as a non-charitable corporation."

The incorporation papers list three directors of the corporation: Melissa Hufford, Jeanine Cirillo, and Tommy Silla, all listing their address as 1 Police Plaza, Room 1308. Hufford, an NYPD  Detective Specialist, lists herself on LinkedIn as an executive administrative assistant to the Chief of Patrol. Silla is also listed as working in the NYPD's Patrol Services Bureau.

So where does your money go when you buy a $20 glass "holiday ornament" decorated with snowflakes and the seal of the NYPD Chief of Patrol? The website, Chell's social media posts, and the company's incorporation documents don't say. We asked the NYPD how proceeds from the company are used, what benefit, if any, Chell or the company directors who work in his office derive from the company, and if there was any explanation for why the Chief is billing it as a charitable organization when it doesn't appear to be one.

The NYPD did not answer all of our questions. "The sale of the items is related to the Chief of Patrol’s office club, which was created and is operated within Department guidelines," a spokesperson wrote. "Any profit made from the sale of the items goes directly to the club and is used to fund office supplies such as water, coffee, snacks etc. Office/precinct clubs are run throughout the department in a similar manner."

So the Chief of Patrol for the NYPD, annual budget $5.6 billion, is selling branded hoodies online so his office staff can buy bottles of water? According to the NYC Conflict of Interest Board's rules on fundraising, agency heads can designate not-for-profit corporations that staff can fundraise for if "the not-for-profit organization has a clear and direct nexus to the City and its residents and with the mission or duties of the City agency or office." Keeping Chell's staff in the office of the Chief of Department supplied with peanut M&Ms could be interpreted as being important to the mission and duties of the office. But why is Chell touting the shop as a charitable non-profit 501(c)3 when it's registered in New York as a non-charitable corporation? Why doesn't the site, as Conflict of Interest Board rules would seem to require, include "a disclaimer that a contribution will not affect any business dealings with the City or provide special access to City officials?" We asked the NYPD follow-up questions, and did not receive a response. A message sent through the Cop Pop Up Shop website was not immediately returned.

The most interesting object on sale at the Cop Pop Up Shop is the challenge coin Chell alluded to in his LinkedIn message. Thought to have been imported from the military to law enforcement, challenge coins are limited-edition tokens issued to people who serve in a particular unit or take part in a particular operation. Originally closely held and used as proof of service, challenge coins now feed a robust secondary collector's market, and, at least in the case of Chell's coin, are being sold directly to the public. Chell's coin features his chief's badge flanked by the flags of the United States and the NYPD and set against a Thin Blue Line flag. The reverse of the coin depicts a helicopter hovering over a dubiously accurate NYC skyline as a bat-signal beam projects the letters GSD onto the sky, presumably a reference to the "get stuff done" motto favored by the current mayor and his police department. It bears the slogan "Guardians of Gotham" and the acronyms of the city's various patrol divisions.

The challenge coin is sold out. The holiday ornament and hoodies and t-shirts bearing the seal of the Chief of Patrol are still available.

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