Tattoos In Law Enforcement

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WOOSTER — What once was a mark associated with sailors and hoodlums is now becoming more commonplace, as tattoos, as well as facial hair, have made their way into the accepted uniform of many law enforcement agencies.
Reflective of a changing culture and perception of personal appearance in professional arenas, policies governing how police officers look to the outside world how the balancing act required to get and keep good officers, while allowing them to express themselves.

Varied policies
Policies among local agencies varies greatly.
As with many departments, Orrville Police had no real tattoo policy until around 2005.
“I think a lot of agencies found themselves in the same boat. Officers were getting them, and we had to make a decision,” …show more content…

Doug Hunter, noting, “There is some flexibility provided within the policy where the sheriff can make exceptions on a case-by-case basis.”
He said he is aware of only one such exception, that of a deputy in the jail who has a large tattoo on his arm, which is required to be covered.

Why the debate
“We realize the fact a person simply has a visible tattoo doesn't prohibit them from being an effective law enforcement officer,” said Hunter, noting, uniformity in appearance and dress, as evident by the clothes they wear, is not only historic, but important to solidifying public perception.
In a similar historical context, he said, tattoos had been associated with folks in the military or those associated with illegal activity.
Wooster Police Chief Matt Fisher, who said his department bans all visible tattoos that were not part of the package when an officer was hired, said he's “gotten no push back and no one has called to complain.”
While he said visible skin art “could bother the older generation,” Fisher said, “I hope the level of service we provide would help overcome those …show more content…

“It has to be something significant to you. You have to carry it around every day of your life,” he said.

Hiring challenges
With increasingly relaxed policies on visible tattoos, especially those that predate employment, local agencies are better able to tap into a shrinking pool of candidates.
“You hate to pass up good people. A lot of military veterans have tattoos,” said Zimmerly, noting, “Pickings are kind of think for candidates and you hate to limit it more.”
Hiring numbers are down nationwide, according to Fisher, explaining, “Who wants to be a cop today? It's not just the rap we get from the media, but who wants to run toward gunfire?”
That said, with many candidates coming into the process, whether from the military or not, he said, a strict ban on pre-existing tattoos would “limit an already limited pool.”
While Orrville's small department is seldom in the business of hiring and Birkbeck acknowledges he's “not a tattoo person” himself, “It's something all of us have to take into consideration when hiring.”

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