Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is facing a tough re-election fight against former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) kicked off a tour on Monday highlighting his tough-on-crime law enforcement credentials and his support for 85 percent mandatory minimums for anyone convicted of a crime. But while the presence of uniformed police officers at the event made it appear that they were there to support his approach, many apparently were simply on-duty officers who thought they were there to provide security — in violation of state’s ethics law.
The Tampa Tribune reported Monday that Scott’s Tampa “Let’s Keep Florida Safe” event at Patrick’s Uniforms featured “at least a half-dozen on-duty law officers in uniform” providing the Governor with a “backdrop of uniformed law officers.” Their presence apparently was in violation of Section 104.31 of the Florida Statutes, which explicitly prohibits any “employee of the state or any political subdivision” from participation “in any political campaign for an elective office while on duty.”
Spokesmen for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission told the paper the appearance was due to a misunderstanding, as they thought they were there for provide security or for an official (non-campaign) event.
Hillsborough Chief Deputy Sheriff José Docobo told the Tribune that the sheriff’s colonel attending the event had not expected the event to be political. “When he got back he briefed me that to his surprise it was a campaign stop as opposed to just the governor holding a press conference on crime, which is what Col. Previtera understood when he went,” he explained, adding, “Under those circumstances neither he nor the deputies would have been there. It is our policy not to attend political events in uniform or on duty.”
A Scott campaign spokeswoman blamed the law enforcement officers for the error, telling the Tribune that the nature of the event was made clear in all invitations.