JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — We are in the thick of campaign season. The Jacksonville city elections are on March 21st.
It’s a packed race for the next Mayor of Jacksonville. One candidate has secured the Sheriff’s endorsement: Daniel Davis.
A viewer saw the Sheriff's endorsement video and had a question.
QUESTION: Roberta Thomas asked “How can you be working AND promoting political candidates? In uniform? I thought this was forbidden a few years ago.”
ANSWER: Yes, it is illegal to be on duty while participating in a political campaign, but you can wear your uniform during campaign events. There are some nuances with the law when it comes to certain elected officials.
- Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office
- Florida statues
- University of North Florida political science professor Mike Binder
- Board certified labor and employment attorney Tad Delegal
According to Florida statute 104.31, it reads “An employee of the state or any political subdivision may not participate in any political campaign for an elective office while on duty. Any person violating the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree."
However, JSO says “As a constitutionally elected official, Sheriff Waters is always on duty.”
There’s a provision that reads “The provisions of paragraph (a) shall not be construed so as to limit the political activity in a general, special, primary, bond, referendum, or other election of any kind or nature, of elected officials or candidates for public office in the state or of any county or municipality thereof.”
"Technically a sheriff, or any salaried employee, is sort of always on duty especially a law enforcement officer who is certified," Delegal explained. "But I think that it would be interpreted to mean that you know as long as the sheriff is not engaging in official duties at the time and makes clear this is not part of his or her official duties – the endorsement – that you know, the statute would still allow that kind of action.”
My experts say these provisions exist to protect freedom of speech and allow elected officials like the sheriff the ability to express their political beliefs.
“There’s an argument to be made that if we are all citizens and we can all exhibit our political expression, these folks would be essentially banned from doing so just by their profession," Binder explained. "And while yes you may technically be on duty, I don’t think anyone expects you to be on duty 24 hours a day.”
As for the second part of the question, yes. Officers can wear their uniform in political ads. JSO’s public information officer Christian Hancock said “Office of General Counsel offered an opinion on the questions raised by way of a legal memorandum in March of 2019.”
According to the memorandum, yes they can.
If you have any election concerns or questions you want us to verify, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.