Misusing police images Using police officers in a political campaign is bad for candidates and cops.

November 09, 1998

IN A POLITICAL campaign, the proper association with police can make a difference. Being linked with murderer Willie Horton was a kiss of death for Michael Dukakis. Winning the endorsement of big-city police chiefs in 1996 put Bill Clinton on the right side of the law and order issue.

Associating with police officers has little downside risk in a political campaign. That's probably why one of County Executive John G. Gary's campaign brochures featured three photographs of policemen. The problem is these photographs may have BTC violated the state and county ethics rules -- as well as the Police Department's own regulations -- that prohibit government employees from engaging in political activity while working.

From what is known, these were not off-duty, candid photographs. They were posed. Several of the officers were ordered to appear in these photos while they were on duty. At least one of the officers featured in one photograph was surprised to find himself in a campaign brochure.

Mr. Gary, as county executive, had every right to have his photo taken with the county police -- but only if those images were used for governmental purposes. Had he wanted photos for political purposes, he should have not have used county officers.

To maintain its integrity, the Police Department must be nonpartisan. The department's allegiance is to enforce the law and not to a candidate or political party. If Mr. Gary's opponent, Janet S. Owens, had asked for officers to pose for her brochures, the request would have been denied outright. The same standard should have applied to Mr. Gary.

The county ethics commission should investigate this matter in depth. It should also issue a public report explaining the appropriate use of government personnel in campaign materials so that future county executives do not repeat this blunder.

Pub Date: 11/09/98

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