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VERIFY: Are officers breaking the law by appearing in political ads?

One pastor says yes, but the city says no.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Sheriff's officers have appeared in two ads supporting the re-election campaign of mayor Lenny Curry, and now some are asking if doing so puts them on the wrong side of the law.

The officers appear in uniform next to a JSO car, with firearms in holsters. Some praise Curry on-camera, while others criticize his opponent, city council member Anna Brosche.

Pastor R. L. Gundy filed a federal complaint, claiming the officers violated the Hatch Act, a 1939 federal law that prohibits government employees from certain political activities.

Jacksonville's Office of General Counsel says no city ethics rules were violated, claiming there’s nothing on the books prohibiting off-duty, uniformed officers from participating in political ads.

However, that clashes with a document from Larry James, general counsel of the National Fraternal Order of Police. The Hatch Act guidelines say officers are allowed to endorse or oppose a partisan political candidate in an ad or broadcast, “so long as the officer is not on duty and not wearing a uniform, badge or insignia.”

The office of general counsel says this all has to do with a recently-passed ordinance, on which the OGC has not yet drafted an opinion.

First Coast News will make sure the opinion and the reasoning behind it are available online when finished.

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