New tattoo rule has some Md. police officers steamed

By Heather Rawlyk
The Annapolis Capital

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, Md. Under a new policy instituted last week, Anne Arundel County police officers are being required to cover up tattoos while on duty.

That means even on hot days such as today, an officer with tattoos on his arms or neck is required to wear long sleeves and a turtle neck.

On June 22, county police were given a memorandum stating that sworn officers, civilian volunteers, animal control and bike patrols, among other staff, are required to cover all tattoos, body art and "body mutilation" while representing the police department.

O'Brien Atkinson, the Fraternal Order of Police union representative, said he would file a grievance with police Chief James Teare this morning.

He said the County Charter requires changes in codes pertaining to wages, hours and working conditions to be run through the union before implementation.

Having to wear long sleeves while conducting traffic control, a foot patrol or a chase in 98-degree weather, for example, is certainly a working condition.

He said negotiations should have been made with the FOP before the memorandum was released.

He was told about the policy change around 4 p.m. on June 21, he said. The policy went into place at midnight.

"We're kind of calling on them to withdraw the policy and sit down and bargain with unit representatives to negotiate this as they should have," he said.

And if that doesn't work.

"Then we're at odds," Mr. Atkinson said. "I'm sure it'll go to arbitration."

Chief Teare says the policy change will improve the department.

"The department's administration strongly believes that uniformity of appearance is desirable, that police officers need to be recognizable, and that a uniformed professional appearance increases the esprit de corps of its members and denotes a well-disciplined department," Chief Teare said.

Mark Akers, union representative for Anne Arundel County Employees Local 582, said he didn't know about the policy until it was in place.

He said he has safety concerns about employees such as Animal Control officers, who often run around chasing animals in the summer heat.

Mr. Akers said he will set up a meeting with Chief Teare to argue his side.

"I'd rather address this before something (bad) happens," he said.

Beyond requiring officers to cover all tattoos with clothing, the memorandum released last week states that tattoos deemed to be "extremist, indecent, sexist, and racist" are banned and that those officers and personnel with a tattoo within these categories must apply for a waiver from Chief Teare. "Body mutilation also is banned," the memo says.

The memorandum fails to tell officers exactly what the punishment is if they fail to apply for such a waiver.

Sgt. David Feerrar, a county police spokesman, did not have an answer.

"That's the question of the day," he said.

He added that the purpose of the policy is not to make officers uncomfortable, but to promote professionalism and a positive image of the county Police Department.

"On paper, it sounds very hard," he said. "But in reality, it's not as harsh as it sounds."

He said the department recognizes that there is an increased popularity regarding tattoos.

"... However, the police department is a para-military organization and the citizens we serve give considerable importance to the uniformity of its police officers," he said.

Since 2000, the county Sheriff's Department implemented the same policy, and there have been no complaints and no problems, according to Deputy Harry L. Neisser, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.

"We've had that in our rules and regulations for a long time," he said.

But there is a big difference between being a county police officer and a sheriff's deputy, Mr. Atkinson said.

"When you're doing police work you're much more inclined to be directing traffic, accident control - our jobs just get us out there in the heat, facing the elements," he said.

Requiring an officer on bike patrol to ride the streets in pants and a turtleneck during hot months is unreasonable, he said.

He also pointed out that tattooed volunteers would likely not offer their free services to the department during the hot months if it means they would have to wear pants and long sleeve shirts outdoors. The department has 89 volunteers 35 in police service, 45 reserve officers and 9 chaplains according to Cpl. Mark Shawkey, a county police spokesman.

The regulation also may deter qualified recruits from choosing the county police department, Mr. Atkinson said. The department is down 26 officers.

"With our staffing I think that is a grave mistake," he said.

Mr. Atkinson said he understands and respects the department's need for uniformity and professionalism.

"However, this policy was never brought to the FOP and never brought to any of the bargaining groups who represent this group of employees," he said. "In Anne Arundel County we have collective bargaining. We just finished up contract negotiations and this issue was never brought forward."

He said the policy is harsh to those officers hired with tattoos that aren't intimidating.

"This is something they were hired with," he said. "Now they're making them wear long sleeved shirts and pants on patrol. Add to that a bulletproof vest and compound that with a foot chase. I feel for everybody who currently has to wear long-sleeved shirts."

Copyright 2007 The Capital

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