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Code of ethics complaint filed over use of Buffalo Police officers in "Brown for Buffalo" campaign ad

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Posted at 5:01 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 18:38:27-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — A campaign attack ad that’s been broadcast and posted to social media websites since earlier this month is receiving ethics complaints.

The ad, sponsored by the “Brown for Buffalo” campaign, claims Buffalo Mayor Democratic Nominee India Walton plans to fire 100 Buffalo Police officers as part of her public safety plan if she’s elected in November.

It features some of the officers who said they would be fired.

Buffalo Attorney Stephanie Adams filed a Code of Ethics Complaint with the Buffalo Board of Ethics. She said officers acting in their official duty violates the federal Hatch Act of 1939 —which prohibits civil service employees from engaging in some forms of political activity.

“I’m a little concerned that people identifying as police officers are engaging in this political activity,” she said.

A spokesman for the Buffalo Police Department said the officers had permission from Commissioner Byron Lockwood – who was appointed by Mayor Brown - to take part in the pro-Brown ad.

“You’re not going to be fired. Come see me,” Walton said when asked about the ad.

Walton is proposing to reallocate $7.5 million from the police budget to other city initiatives. However, she said she would not fire 100 officers in the process.

“There’s no truth to that. Our plan on our website has no intention of laying off any officers.”

Mayor Brown denied our request for an on-camera interview. Instead, his campaign spoke through a pre-prepared statement which reads:

On the complaint:
"Throughout this campaign, Ms. Walton and her supporters have talked about defunding the police, laying off 100 police officers and how our police don't keep us safe, but now, ironically, they are 'very concerned' about real Buffalo police officers? We believe most people will see that for what it is - a distraction from Ms. Walton's complete lack of any qualifications. The campaign ad speaks for itself, and the complaints that were made have no validity whatsoever."

On the facts:
Ms. Walton has said she plans on cutting $7.5 million from the Buffalo Police Department budget. This would not be possible without laying off a minimum of 100 officers. Her quotes about 'freeing up police officers from their sworn responsibilities' is a false promise which would yield dangerous consequences. She cites a study, but does not in any way explain what she would actually do to cut $7.5 million dollars from the police budget. Because she can’t. Not without laying off police officers. Referring to a study does not lay out a plan. It is false that her proposed cut would not require laying off police officers. Minimum manpower requirements can't be met if you reduce overtime. Encouraging police officers to retire is not a plan. The contractual process for lay-offs is a fact. Unless the Walton campaign is prepared to violate contracts and ignore collective-bargaining agreements, then the “last-in, first-out“ agreement applies.

In their attempt to answer this question, her campaign said, "I would love to give you a really comprehensive plan, I would love for India Walton to have the time. Unfortunately, we don't have that luxury because Mayor Brown did not accept the will of the Democratic voters, instead decided to continue challenging India Walton for the role of mayor." That response demonstrates that Ms. Walton doesn't want to be honest with voters about her plan to lay off police officers, and isn't ready to lead or take responsibility, including in her campaign for Mayor of the City of Buffalo.

The Board of Ethics has two weeks to respond. Depending on its findings, it has the power to issue disciplinary action and fines.