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The appearance of uniformed police officers in ads supporting Mayor Byron W. Brown’s re-election has prompted complaints from opponents and the police union alike during this campaign season.

Now, with crime ranking as one of the top issues of the 2013 election, the Erie County Board of Elections is investigating whether such appearances violate state election law.

After the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association filed a complaint with District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III over the appearance of uniformed officers in a Brown ad, the local board decided Wednesday to launch its own probe after Sedita identified it as the proper investigatory agency.

Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward said the board will meet again in two weeks to address the complaint.

“We will open an investigation to the extent that’s what it is,” Ward said, noting the board’s limited resources for such a probe. “We’ll ask the mayor’s people to come in and state their position.”

The complaint stems from a letter to Sedita from William J. Gambino, first vice president of the police union that is supporting challenger Bernard A. Tolbert in Tuesday’s Democratic primary election. Gambino also appeared at a campaign event in support of Tolbert last week.

“The use of public resources and public servants for private partisan political purposes is unethical, wrong, and in our recently sought legal opinion, in violation of a number of laws,” Gambino said in his letter to Sedita, obtained by The Buffalo News.

But the district attorney chastised Gambino is his reply, also obtained by The News, for not employing the services of his own agency – the Buffalo Police Department – to probe the allegations.

“I understand that in addition to being Chairman of the Buffalo PBA Political Action Committee (naturally, I have dismissed the cynical suggestion that your call for an investigation of Mayor Brown is politically inspired), you are also a detective,” Sedita wrote. “Your correspondence is unclear as to what, if any, meaningful investigation has been done by your department in support of your allegations.”

As he has in other complaints of alleged violations of election law, Sedita suggested that the Board of Elections should probe such allegations before they reach his desk, insisting that his office is a prosecutorial and not an investigative agency of government.

“The law could not be more clear: The New York State Board of Elections is responsible for conducting New York election law investigations,” Sedita told Gambino. “Thus, assuming your investigation agency has declined to meaningfully investigate your allegations, you might wish to consider directing your call for an investigation to the New York State Board of Elections.”

The ad also drew protests in June from Republican mayoral candidate Sergio R. Rodriguez, who questioned the appearance of Northeast District Chief Kimberly L. Beaty in uniform, writing “Progress” on a posterboard, standing in front of police vehicles, holding the sign for the camera, and talking about Brown’s public safety record.

She is one of several city employees and interns featured in the ad, which was filmed at city locations including the waterfront, schools and construction sites.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com