UPDATE: Paul Fong’s political consultants at Terris, Barnes & Walters provided the following statement:
Paul Fong participated in a ride-along with the San Jose Police Department on September 23, 2013 to obtain a street level view of crime in San Jose. Mr. Fong was not a candidate at the time of the ride-along.
Assemblymember Fong’s Campaign apologizes to the officer and the SJPD for the inadvertent use of this photo and has taken precautions to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Paul Fong may not be breaking any rules by letting a lobbyist hold a $100,000 debt over his head during his entire time in the State Assembly, but his latest transgression could be seen as a violation of state law and local police policies.
Over the weekend, Fong, who is running for a seat on the San Jose City Council, posted new ads on his campaign Facebook page featuring him and San Jose police Sgt. Rob Imobersteg shaking hands in front of the officer’s car. Each of the four ads posted online threw out a local crime statistic and the deductive slogan: “That’s why: ‘SAFETY FIRST.’” The ads, which were hastily removed Tuesday, also misspelled the word “city” when recommending Fong for the District 1 council seat.
Ironically, while crime is up in San Jose, the political ads could have added one more to the pile.
California government code section 3206 states, “No officer or employee of a local agency shall participate in political activities of any kind while in uniform.” Not only was Imobersteg in uniform; the SJPD emblem on the car’s driver-side door is in clear view. The SJPD duty manual also forbids officers on-duty or in uniform from “willfully being photographed in uniform (on or off duty) with political candidates.” (See c-1437 and c-1452.)
Sgt. Heather Randol, a public information officer for SJPD, told San Jose Inside in an email, “The sergeant was unaware this photo was being used as a political campaign ad. The photo was taken approximately 6-8 months ago at the end of a ridealong at the request of Mr. Fong. Mr. Fong was assigned to ride with the sergeant after requesting a ridealong with San Jose Police Department.”
If the photo was taken roughly six months ago, it’s conceivable that Fong was already a candidate. San Jose Inside reported last September that he was in escrow to buy a home in San Jose so he could run for council. Randol said SJPD had no plans to investigate the incident, but San Jose Inside has requested more detailed information about when the ridealong occurred.
Randol added that the department made a request for Fong to remove the ads, which disappeared from his Facebook page without comment sometime after 3pm Tuesday. The ads were first posted on Sunday, March 23, and accumulated a total of 76 likes on Facebook. Fong’s campaign did not return San Jose Inside’s call for comment.
Randol said neither Sgt. Imobersteg nor Chief Larry Esquivel knew or approved of the ad beforehand, as it would have equated to a department endorsement of Fong—which would clearly be illegal.
Regardless, Fong should have known better. He chairs the Assembly’s elections committee.
Below is a slideshow of the four ads Assemblyman Paul Fong posted to his San Jose City Council Facebook page before removing them without comment on Tuesday: