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.
Administrators 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.