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Police chief’s appearing in Brown campaign ad draws criticism

The presence of a Buffalo police chief in one of Mayor Byron W. Brown’s first campaign advertisements has been questioned by one of Brown’s challengers.

Northeast District Chief Kimberly L. Beaty is seen in the commercial in uniform, writing “Progress” on a piece of posterboard, and then standing in front of police vehicles, holding up the sign for the camera and talking about Brown’s public safety record.

She is one of several city employees and interns featured in the ad, which was filmed in locations around Buffalo, including the waterfront, schools and construction sites.

“The Brown campaign has unfortunately put one of Buffalo’s finest in a precarious position,” said Republican mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez. “This type of heavy-handed unethical politics is reflective of what our community has been victim of for far too long.”

The Brown administration requested that a reporter send campaign inquiries to the mayor’s spokesman, who did not respond to requests to comment.

Attempts to reach Beaty were unsuccessful.

While courts have not looked favorably at the insertion of politics into law enforcement, Beaty’s participation in the television ad does not appear to be against the law.

State election law bars police commissioners and officers from using their “official power or authority, in any manner, directly or indirectly in aid or against any political party, organization, association or society.”

However, a 1983 opinion written by the state Board of Elections found that there would be “no violation” of Election Law if a police officer participated in a videotaped endorsement, as it cannot be construed as coercion or intimidation of any voter.

Nevertheless, the courts have viewed separation of the political operations of an incumbent and their police departments as essential for protecting law enforcement operations from political influence.

Such a separation “comports with the sound administration policy that the removal of police personnel from active politics ... is conducive to the effective maintenance of discipline and the preservation and promotion of the integrity and efficiency of the Police Department and its personnel,” according to a decision by the Second Department of the state’s Appellate Division.

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ran for re-election in 2009 and filmed a commercial with police personnel, his campaign team cast off-duty officers who wore rented fake uniforms and stood in front of a rented fake patrol car, to avoid using city resources for political purposes.

Brown is also running in a Democratic primary against former FBI official Bernard A. Tolbert.