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The Cops

Can Top NYPD Officials Pick a Fight with Someone on Social Media and Then Delete the Posts?

What happens when public officials memory-hole their tweets?

New York City Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Philip Banks III is joined by New York Police Department (NYPD) Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey, New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, and New York City Corporation Counsel Hon. Sylvia Hinds-Radix to take New Yorkers’ questions and update them on the Adams administration’s ongoing public safety efforts in New York City. City Hall. Friday, March 17, 2023. Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey at an event to take New Yorkers’ questions and update them on the Adams administration’s ongoing public safety efforts in New York City. (Ed Reed / Mayoral Photography Office)

Earlier this week, top NYPD officials used their official social media accounts to send out a volley of posts directed at a single independent journalist, Talia Jane, who regularly writes about New York City street protests and the police response to them. Two of the posts, one from Chief of Department Jeff Maddrey, the highest uniformed figure in the NYPD, and another from Deputy Commissioner for Operations Kaz Daughtry, were subsequently deleted.

What was in the deleted posts? Maddrey's went like this: "Hi Talia! the days of attacking my cops and then inventing false narratives to divide New Yorkers are over! New Yorkers support peaceful protest and they reject violence against my cops." Daughtry's missive was similar, tagging his boss as well as the head of the NYPD Transit Bureau and the NYPD Patrol Bureau. (The text of the deleted tweets is archived here and here.) 

A screengrab of Chief Maddrey's deleted tweet.

Notably, both Maddrey's and Daughtry's posts featured a post from Oren Levy, AKA ViralNewsNYC, another prolific documenter of street protests and police actions. In the post, Levy called Jane "one of the main anarchist organizers" and urged police to "bring the same energy the next time you see her." Some more important context: Levy was responding to a post by Jane accusing police of rushing into a protest in Harlem Saturday unprovoked. Jane's tweet was responding to an NYPD tweet about a head injury an officer sustained at the protest. 

Was Levy telling cops to bring "the same energy" against Jane as the energy the police had brought against the protesters in Harlem? Or the same energy as whoever caused the officer's head injury?

No, Levy told Hell Gate, there was no violent intent to his post. "Hold her accountable when she lies," he said. "She makes up lies, and I called her out on her lies. That's what that means." (Levy added that he would sue Hell Gate if we slandered him, and shortly afterward, posted a video of his feet that includes the audio of our conversation.)

An entire cycle of further online sturm und drang followed Maddrey's and Daughtry's posts, including Chief of Transit Michael Kemper weighing in and Chief of Patrol John Chell telling Jane he is committed to "cracking down on devices, roadways, and anything else to enforce the law," a declaration that raised questions about the NYPD's commitment to uphold the terms of a recent legal settlement, under which the NYPD promised to "whenever possible accommodate the demonstration" when a protest temporarily "obstructs public streets or sidewalks." Meanwhile, some of the City's most right-wing and protest-hostile politicians got into the action as well.

In her dispatches from protests, Jane (who—full disclosure—has written two stories for Hell Gate as a freelancer) makes no bones about her sympathy for people exercising their right to protest, or her skepticism and distrust of police. To Jane, the episode spoke to the NYPD's desire to obscure the underlying contested claim: "All that time they spent hassling me could’ve been spent producing proof to verify their yet-unfounded claims that protesters attacked a cop," she told Hell Gate.

A screengrab of Deputy Commissioner Daughtry's deleted post.

If the preceding paragraphs feel like a whole eyeball-glazing mess of niche social media drama that just happens to involve the top echelons of the world's largest and best resourced police department, well— that's not wrong. But it also raises an interesting question: Can public officials use their official social media accounts to pick a fight with a reporter and then delete their posts, leaving no trace of their actions?

Official social media posts are City records under the NYC Charter, and consequently, under City policy, "social media records have a permanent retention and are required to be transferred to the Municipal Library for preservation and future use." Every City agency, including the NYPD, is required to have a vendor who backs up its official social media channels and delivers them to the municipal archive.

Are Chief of Department Maddrey's and Deputy Commissioner Daughtry's accounts—both of which include the word "official" in their bios—on the list of official department accounts the NYPD is required to preserve? Were the tweets in question properly archived before they were deleted? Did the tweets meet the department's own internal standards? The NYC Department of Records, which oversees record retention policy across City government, referred questions to the NYPD. The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests for answers to these and other questions on its protocols for social media retention. Section 304-19 of the department's administrative guide, which governs the use of official social media channels, is not included in its publicly available version.

So, it's conceivable—though, absent any confirmation from the NYPD, not certain—that future historians wanting to understand how the NYPD interacted with the public on social media in 2024 will be able to find Chief Maddrey's and Deputy Commissioner Daughtry's tweets somewhere in a dusty corner of the City archives. 

A more interesting question might be, why were these tweets deleted? Again, the NYPD won't say. One possibility is that Chief Maddrey and Deputy Commissioner Daughtry both thought better of them. Another possibility is that an NYPD lawyer reached this conclusion. 

Muira McCammon, an assistant professor of communication at Tulane University who is writing a book about he risks of government officials relying on corporate social media to reach their imagined audiences, said police departments often have a complicated relationship with social media.

"Police departments on social media often struggle to make peace with their imagined and actual audiences," McCammon said. "They want the benefit of visibility and transparency, but they don't necessarily want to reckon with the activists within their communities."

Jane's theory is that they deleted the posts because they were ratioed.

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