No Ink or Ball Caps

The Chicago Police Department recently joined a growing number of departments who have instituted policies limiting the number or type of tattoos which may be displayed while on duty. Even the military has seen a need to establish similar restrictions. However, Chicago went further than most by completely prohibiting any visible tattoo, and now finds itself facing court challenges from both the union and individual officers.  So the question is “Where do you draw the line when it comes to ink?”

Chicago’s policy includes a prohibition against officers having visible brandings or tattoos “while on duty or representing the department, whether in uniform, conservative business attire or casual dress.” If body art cannot be covered by normal clothing, officers are required to cover it with ‘matching skin tone adhesive bandages or tattoo cover up tape.” The same policy also prohibits uniformed officers from wearing ball caps or knit caps during winter months, but I’ll get to that decision later.

Police TattooAdministrators make two major claims in defending their decision. First, the increase in tattoo popularity has resulted in more and more officers sporting ink. Second, some of the ink or brandings are offensive in design or placed in inappropriate locations ( i.e. neck and hands). On the surface, this sounds like a valid argument. Police departments are uniformed para-military organizations and conformance to standards are a vital aspect of both discipline and professional appearance. But, if you dig a little deeper you soon see this policy for what it is – a knee jerk reaction made due to the poor decisions of a few, and management’s inability to deal with those specific situations.

To support this argument, I would point out that the reason given for the increase in tattoos is a general increase in popularity. This alone detracts from the argument that the public would view an officer in a negative way due to being inked. Next, I would like to take you back to the other part of the policy change, the prohibition on ball caps. The city states this is due to an increase in the number of uniformed officers wearing the ball cap improperly, also known as backwards.  This is clearly a minor issue which should have been dealt with at a much lower level. The fact that it had to rise to the development of a department-wide policy does not speak well for the level of overall discipline.

I agree that an employer has the right to establish reasonable dress standards, including the appropriate display of body art and wearing of head gear. However, I do not believe it is reasonable to go from having no standards to a zero tolerance policy overnight. Nor is it reasonable to punish the entire department due to the poor decisions of a few members. If junior wants to wear his ball cap backwards or ink his girlfriend’s name on his neck, correct him; make him walk the worst beat in the district, or single him out at roll call and let his peers do your job for you. But, do not over manage an entire workforce because you cannot properly supervise a select few.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

2 thoughts on “No Ink or Ball Caps

  1. Chicago has a history that needs to be taken into account when considering head covering. It is the only major police organization that uses the checkered hatband (also know as the Sillitoe tartan after former Scottish police officer and MI5 head Sir Percy Sillitoe).

    The Sillitoe tartan is used by police forces in many countries around the world, although it is b no means universal. While most police forces adopted it to increase police visibility for benign reasons, it was allegedly introduced in Chicago in order to make uniformed police more visible in the community in the hope that it would make it more difficult for individual police to engage in corrupt conduct. It is against this background that headwear has a particular sensitivity in Chicago PD.

    On the topic of ink, in years gone by, tattoos were an indicator of criminal involvement. When I started as a police officer in the early 70s, any visible tattoos had to be surgically removed prior to applying to join. I recall an ex-navy classmate of mine having horrendous scars on his forearms where he had previously had tattoos. Most people would not have looked twice at the tattoos, but the disfiguring scars became a source of embarrassment to him. Today, laser therapy makes removal more feasible, if still very painful and expensive.

    I must confess to being of two minds about the display of ink. Uniformed police need to present a professional public image which is easiest done through limits being placed on the scope for individual self expression. Perhaps a more conciliatory approach might have been to place responsibility for compliance with professional standards back on the individual officer. In other words, if you want to display ink, you have to justify that you are displaying a professional appearance. That would certainly cut out tattoos of gang affiliations, offensive language, sexually graphic images and the like.

  2. Style over substance. I’d rather have a politician, administrator, or cop who’s inked from scalp to toe but isn’t a douche bag. If somebody got hired in the first place, then leave them the F%#K alone. If they’re doing a bad job, then fire them or vote them out. The end.

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