California Law and Campaigning in Uniform

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Recently, a Sheriff of the largest County in California appeared in a video supporting a candidate for District Attorney while in uniform.  The candidate is currently the elected City Attorney of the second largest City in the United States.

In general:

No officer or employee of a local agency shall participate in political activities of any kind while in uniform.   Government Code section 3206.

Firefighters, in the Firefighters Procedural Bill of Rights Act:

Except as otherwise provided in Chapter 9.5 (commencing with Section 3201), or whenever on duty or in uniform, no firefighter shall be prohibited from engaging, or be coerced or required to engage, in political activity.   Government Code section 3252(a).

Public Safety Officers are specifically mentioned in the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act :

 Except as otherwise provided by law, or whenever on duty or in uniform, no public safety officer shall be prohibited from engaging, or be coerced or required to engage, in political activity. Government Code section 3302(a).

One published case interprets Government Code  section 3206.  That case is California Common Cause v. Duffy (1987) 200 Cal.App.3d 730.    In that case, then-San Diego County Sheriff John F. Duffy was sued by taxpayers for illegal expenditures of public funds and the use of on-duty personnel in political campaigning.  Duffy was distributing post cards that had strong anti-Chief Justice Rose Bird messages.  18,000 postcards were distributed through the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.  Duffy told deputies that they “could distribute the postcards while on duty to citizens who requested them.”   Id. at 739.  At least 25 deputies in uniform participated.  Id.

In addition to the statutory prohibitions found in Government Code section 3206 and 3302, the court noted that the San Diego Sheriff’s Policy Manual prohibited political activities in uniform.  California Common Cause at 746.

More recently, the Stanislaus County Grand Jury found that:

[The] Stanislaus County Sheriff violated California Government Code section 3206 by
attending political functions, while in uniform, on at least two separate occasions.  Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury, Case #11-10C.


In a letter to then-Assistant Sheriff of Orange County dated February 21, 2008, a then-Senior Assistant Attorney General and the District Attorney of Orange County opined that while “violation of Government Code section 3206 is not a crime, it is a violation of law that could be the subject of a civil suit or other proceeding against an office holder including and up to removal from office.”  The Assistant Sheriff appeared at a San Clemente City Council meeting in full uniform, including his side arm, on November 20, 2007 and addressed the Council, in the opinion of the attorneys, on political topics.  The strongly worded letter concluded “you are hereby advised and directed to avoid such practices in the future and as interim head of the Sheriff’s Department to ensure that the members of your Department do so as well.”

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

A: 300 E. State St., Suite 517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708