Meet the Cops Running the NYPD’s 86-Member Public Relations Team

The police department’s PR team has more than doubled in size in the past two years. Some of its recent hires have histories of dishonesty and misconduct.

Chris Gelardi   ·   May 14, 2024
DCPI chief Tarik Sheppard displays a bike lock retrieved from Columbia University on MSNBC's Morning Joe on May 1, 2024.
DCPI chief Tarik Sheppard displays a bike lock retrieved from Columbia University on MSNBC's Morning Joe on May 1, 2024. | MSNBC via YouTube

The New York City Police Department told the City Council last week that its public relations arm employs 86 people, giving the department more communications staffers than many local newsrooms have journalists.

DCPI, named after its head, the deputy commissioner for public information, has more than doubled its staff in the past two years. In May 2022, police officials told councilmembers that approximately 36 staffers were assigned to the division.

To identify DCPI-assigned uniformed officers, New York Focus consulted a web archive program created by citizen watchdogs, as well as 50-a.org — both of which regularly scrape NYPD-published data — then checked the findings against the police department’s online portal of uniformed personnel. To retrieve the DCPI officers’ former assignments, New York Focus relied on a snapshot of the NYPD’s uniformed personnel portal this reporter downloaded in October 2022. Officers’ salary and overtime information came from New York City’s published citywide payroll data.

Tarik Sheppard, DCPI’s leader since August, has overseen much of this growth. Using city databases and data tools created by citizen watchdogs, New York Focus identified at least 57 uniformed NYPD officers assigned to DCPI, two-thirds of whom were assigned to the division after Sheppard took over. (It’s unclear how many civilian staffers DCPI employs, and whether the assignment data are fully up to date.)

In a statement, Brooklyn Councilmember Lincoln Restler pointed to the contrast between the DCPI’s staffing surge and Mayor Eric Adams’s cuts to other city services, including hundreds of layoffs in the Department of Buildings. “It’s stunning to see the NYPD Communications Department more than double to 86 staff while so many of our City agencies are struggling to fulfill their mandates without workers.”

DCPI, which is responsible for responding to media inquiries 24 hours a day, did not respond to New York Focus’s questions before press time.

A 20-year NYPD veteran, Sheppard represents a break from a recent spate of hiring media workers for his role. He was one of police Commissioner Edward Caban’s first appointments, replacing a longtime TV news reporter and anchor who spent five years at Fox News. Before that, DCPI was run by the NYPD’s former commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, who had also been a TV news personality.

Before joining public information, Sheppard was the commanding officer of the 28th Precinct in Harlem — and according to a fall 2022 snapshot of NYPD personnel data, he appears to have brought at least nine officers with him.

Some of those Sheppard hired from his precinct to DCPI have checkered records. A detective who transferred to public information from the 28th Precinct was part of a wrongful arrest lawsuit that ended in a $30,000 settlement, according to information compiled by 50-a.org. One of Sheppard’s lieutenants at the precinct, Theodore Wells, repeatedly failed to deposit money found on arrestees, lied during a department interview, and covered up a use of force, including by keeping his body camera off. Wells was promoted to captain in February, and transferred to DCPI in March.

And in 2021, the city’s civilian oversight board substantiated physical force charges against Sheppard himself. During a June 2020 Black Lives Matter protest, Sheppard tackled a demonstrator, pinned her to the ground, and tased her. NYPD brass intervened in the case after it went to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and Sheppard went undisciplined. The victim later took Sheppard and other officers to court, winning a $99,000 settlement, per 50-a.org.

DCPI employs high-ranking officers: at least 16 detectives, and 18 more ranked sergeant or higher. That means many uniformed DCPI staffers make good money. New York City’s latest available payroll data covers June 2022 through June 2023, and New York Focus identified 12 current uniformed DCPI staffers who worked the job during that time. Those 12 had an average base salary of $122,900.

The staff also work a lot of overtime, contributing to the NYPD’s regular overtime overspending. The overtime-eligible DCPI staffers with relevant payroll data averaged 280 hours of overtime last fiscal year, raking in an average of $26,500 on top of their base pay.

One DCPI detective worked 504 overtime hours — almost 10 a week — boosting his pay by $53,700 last fiscal year.

“It’s a misuse of government funds,” said Queens Councilmember Tiffany Cabán. “It’s putting some drapes on an agency that has year over year been rogue and unaccountable, consistently overspending on overtime — behavior that we don’t see from any other agency in our city.”

Sheppard has come under fire for what critics describe as a propagandistic approach to his job. The current DCPI publishes dramatic, highly produced films to tout the NYPD’s operations — including ones extolling the department’s recent violent crackdowns on college campus protests against Israel’s war on Gaza, which the department blocked reporters from witnessing.

After the NYPD raided the encampment at the City College of New York, Sheppard posed for a video of NYPD brass hoisting an American flag after ripping down a Palestinian one. And he embarked on a media tour, putting forth a bike chain as evidence that Columbia University demonstrators had been infiltrated by “professional” agitators.

“We allow press into warzones,” Cabán remarked, “but the NYPD blocked the press out and created a propaganda video.”

The NYPD has also taken to social media to denounce legislators like Cabán, as well as judges and journalists. The tactics have landed the department in hot water, with councilmembers lambasting the offensive as unprofessional and unethical and the city’s watchdog agency launching an investigation. In Sheppard’s words, the shift is meant to “push back” against narratives that denigrate the NYPD.

“If we don’t,” Sheppard told the Associated Press in March, “it could cause damage to the reputation of our cops and the work that we’re doing.”

Chris Gelardi is a reporter for New York Focus investigating the state’s criminal-legal system. His work has appeared in more than a dozen other outlets, most frequently The Nation, The Intercept, and The Appeal. He is a past recipient of awards from Columbia… more
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