Police Tattoos

The following are member responses PoliceOne received regarding the Houston PD tattoo ban:

Being a female officer with tattoos, I sure do have a comment on this issue. OK maybe a few.

I have a total of 6 tattoos. Only one is visible when in uniform.It's on my right hand. Why am I telling you this? Here's the rest of the story.

My husband was a local Police Chief. August 20, 2000, he took his own life. He himself had 13 tattoos. Only two of his were visible in short sleeved uniform. Did this make him more unprofessional? Not in the least bit. He was a highly trained and highly regarded officer. None of his tats were cartoonish or freakish. Actually he was more accepted on the streets showing a little bit of ink when he had to deal with certain people. In uniform and out of uniform. It did not change WHO he was.

The tattoo that I have visible is on my right hand. I thought it over for a long time before I got it, and decided it was what I wanted to do. You see, I have two yellow rose buds on a single stem on the webbing of my hand between my thumb and forefinger. It represents my husband and I. Ever see two long stemmed roses on one stem? One represents me, one represents him. The single stem represents us becoming one. The positioning of this tat was because we held hands through life together. I was hired with it, and I’m still working with it. I actually talked my Capt. into getting her first tattoo. No hers are not visible. When I was hired the Chief and the Capt. told people about my tats. I’m not ashamed of one of them. Not even the tat on my chest of his badge that I had placed there exactly one week after he took his life.

My tats represent something or someone in my life. It didn't change who I was inside. IF this rule follows, this department is going to loose out on a few really good officers. Should there be a regulation on what color eyes a person has too? My biggest issue here is that ink does not change who the person is. It doesn’t make them lesser people in society. How many men came home from WWI and WWII with ink and went on to be fine officers? Remember them all coming home with big old tats on their forearms?

I didn't change one bit when I got mine. I would refuse to have it removed. I had to live a life of hell after my husband's death, and I’ll be damned if I have someone tell me to remove it. I am working hard to support a family left behind, because the department he worked for didn't give me insurance, a pension and I don’t get SSI benefits. This department even told its officers not to attend the funeral. They didn't send flowers. No support of any kind from these people. No respect for a good officer. SO my ink is that respect. Just a little something that I could do for a great man.

Go ahead, make me......

Sgt. Maria D. Holcomb
Paint Borough Police Department
Windber, PA
Surviving wife of Chief Terry E. Holcomb

The new chief of police in Houston, TX. is constantly coming up with new ways to harass his officers. Wearing vests on duty and off duty. Now Tattoos. The officers that work at HPD didn't give up their First Amendment rights to free speech. Yes Chief Hurtt, a tattoo is another form of free speech. If Joe Dipstick can wear an American flag on his butt and get away with it as free speech, so can police officers with HPD. I wonder if the ACLU would take on the case.

Officer J. Driskill
Lakeview Police Dept.

I don't feel that tattoos should be an issue regarding the hiring of law enforcement officers. As long as the tattoo is not some vulgar or obscene depiction. I for one have tattoos from my younger years and my time in the Navy. Tattoos are in no way relevant to the type of officer that a person will be. Ironically, as we live in such a PC society where we can't discriminate against any manner of lifestyle, even those that conflict with our religious views, for fear of disciplinary action. Now we are going to discriminate against those with a tattoo? It has nothing to do with professionalism.

Dan McNeill
North Cape may, NJ

We have several Officers in my command, both male and female who have visible tattoos. I feel as long as they are not offensive or make a radical political statement that offends public sensibilities, they should be allowed. At the present time my agency has no expressed policy that prohibits body art.

Sergeant Thomas M. Reilly
New York State Courts - Kings County
Security Operations

My thoughts on visible tattoos on any Law Enforcement Officer are more complex than what a "yes" or "no" answer can cover. In some instances, tattoos may be appropriate, in other instances, they are not.

When they are not appropriate is probably the easiest one to enforce and will likely make sense to the LEOs, thus minimizing non-compliance issues. Basically, any LEO in uniform should not have a tattoo visible when the art work would offend my 90 year old grandmother. I think a walking tattoo billboard in inappropriate at any time on an LEO. Yes, I have seen LEOs that have ink sprouting from their collars, all down their arms, and little doubt if they were wearing shorts, their legs would have ink as well. My personal belief is that any person in authority has a much easier time getting respect by default when they present a professional appearance. Art work that should be concealed includes objectionable material, art work that is large and not indicative of the aforementioned military or police affiliations. For instance, large colorful depictions of tropical birds, animals, cars, and similar topics should be covered. Again, it is my opinion that if you look respectable and professional, 99% of the citizenry will respect the officer from the instant of the first encounter.

If the art work is small, tasteful, then there should be no problem with it. Some types of art work that should be acceptable by default include tattoos depicting that officer's military service, small tattoos depicting special LEO training, or other professional affiliations.

Naturally, those dedicated to infiltrating certain types of organizations should be exempt from any type of tattoo prohibitions, as the art work may be seen as street-creds by the target organizations. What to do with the excessive art work becomes another issue as the LEO advances in his career and moves into another position, such as that of a supervisor.


William Drummond

I am a Police Officer in NJ and I have Tattoos on visible places, I have noticed the different in the work place with some people in the way they treat me. Kids think there great and want to get one. While I had some adults tell other officers that they did not trust me because they thought I might have been a biker or something at one time or another. The New Jersey State Police has always from 1921 made their troopers wear long sleeves all year long. One reason was do to the State Police hiring men who had just got out of the military and who were overseas and gotten Tattoos. If you go to work at Disney World Florida and you have tattoos you can't work in the public eye. You must either wear long sleeves or work late at night when the park is closed. Your dept can't make you remove tattoos because the Unions would have a field day in court, but they can make you wear their uniforms, "management’s rights". You also have to look at they way the Police Departments look at this issue. If we let Tattoos to be shown, do they let pierce tongues, lips, nose, having multi colored hair, braided beards, where does it stop. I think that is the question.

New Jersey Cop
Marty P.

Sounds like the Chief got embarrassed when someone made a comment to him about officers’ appearance and he dramatically overreacted. I think if you polled our public and asked them to define "professionalism" they would describe all kinds of character traits, but appearence would be way down on the list. To try to hide the fact that his officers may have tattoos and present a false image to the public that "we are above that sort of barbaric imagery" is to send a message that we are not a part of the community we serve, but above it. About ten years ago our officers approached our then chief about wearing beards. He decided to try it on a test basis. Most of the public didn't care, some really liked it. Only one complaint was made by a guy who said he thought the beards made us look like a bunch of "bikers". The policy was made permanent. Our next chief personally didn't like beards, but worked out a reasonable compromise with our officers. No more full beards, but goatees are permissible. Our first chief had the insight to realize that the one complaint came from someone who certainly demonstrated a very "intolerant" attitude towards the appearance of others. Not something one would want to promote within their Dept. There will always be a segment of the public who will search for reasons to criticize the police. Seems to me that the same mindset that would have a problem with color on someone’s skin would also have problem with the color of someone’s skin. I have both a tattoo and a goatee and I am often described as very professional and even distinguished in appearance. (Well OK it's probably the excess of "silver" in my hair that prompts the distinguished part)

Det Sgt Dane Nelsen
DePere Police Dept
DePere, Wis.

This department is currently considering whether a tattoo policy is needed. While thus far we have several deputies who sport numerous tattoos they have all opted to keep them at locations that do not show while they are in uniform, including short sleeve summer uniforms. Shorts are not an option for uniform wear except for our boating deputies.

Our stance has been what they wear off-duty and whether or not they reveal tattoos it's their private life and unless the tattoos are offensive and generate public complaints because the public is aware they are officers, we are not involved.

Doug Turner, Lieutenant
Colusa County Sheriff's Office
Colusa County, California

While I have seen some tattoos that were pretty outrageous, I think this is an over reaction. It is also very unfair to those who were hired with tattoos. At the very least, the Department should cover the cost of removal of tattoos that are considered objectionable for those who were hired with them.

In this day and age, police uniforms have become much more flexible and "casual," with more consideration for practicality, and less emphasis on "uniformity." Other appearance regulations need to be considered in this light. Tattoos that depict violence or clearly objectionable symbols such as swastikas should be prohibited, but as for the others, this chief is creating a problem where one does not exist.

However, I support the restriction on beards and goatees. One never knows when it will be necessary to put on a mask of some sort--it might be the officer requiring emergency treatment!!

Mike Canny

I personal feeling is that if you are coming into the Profession of Law Enforcement and you already have tattoos that are visible, your agency is already aware of them and has accepted that you have them. If you get them after you are on the street, then you should have the forethought to think of how it will not only make you look, but what about the rest of your peers. The public could wind up with the perception that you are a gangster with a badge.

Remember, people's perception is their reality!

Thank you,

Hugh P. McIntyre #405

A No-tat rule will improve agency image. Law enforcement officers apprehend criminals everyday and the majority of them have tattoos and the public sees that, so when they see a police officer with visible tattoos they say "that officer looks like a criminal", so you can image if the police officer is off duty and someone sees his for the first time showing his tattoos the visible and the ones that he probably don't show on duty, then days later the same person sees him again but this time with uniform, arresting a criminal with similar tattoos, What do you think will come across this citizens mind? Obviously the scenario that this person is seeing does not help the image of a police department.

Alvin Velazquez

With crime spiraling out of control in cities like Dallas and Houston the least of any command staff's worries should be tattoos. I'm familiar with the Dallas Police Department and I know officers with tattoos that present a very professional image and I know officers with no tattoos that don't have clue about professionalism. With departments begging for top quality people and having to settle for less, tattoos, as long as they are tasteful, should not be an issue. But then I think Chief Hurtt, as with other chiefs and command staffs, are eager to divert the attention from the main issue of citizen safety to other issues that can be put in the "spin" mode. By-the-way citizen safety is the most spun subject with most cities and police departments. Finally, how many good candidates will Houston lose because of a tattoo issue and because of age limits?


My name is Gary Boynton I am a Lieutenant with the Waldo County Sheriff's Department in Belfast Maine. I have five tats and I am proud of them. Three of them show when I have short sleeves on in the summer. I have had more comments from the public about how cool they are. I have NEVER received a bad comment about them. As a matter of fact there are two TV shows about tattoo shops on Cable. I agree with the Officer that said if the Chief of that department has nothing to do but pick on the staff for tattoos he needs to find another job. I know many Brother Officers that have tats. I wish they all knew about this article. I will be passing them on to the ones I know. As a matter of fact I plan of getting two more and yes they will show. They will be tribal bands

I am not currently a sworn police officer, but I am currently an active Police Explorer and I wish to chime in on this topic. I do not currently have a tattoo but I do plain to have one in the coming years, in a place that not everyone can see, likely my back.

But in defense of people that do have tattoos I know of a few officers that do have tattoos in visible place. And I respect the hell out of them. A tattoo is something for the person who has it, not the people looking at it. I do understand that some people think down upon people that have tattoos but to them I welcome them to the year 2005. Not just pirates, sailors, and bikers have tattoos anymore.

To the chiefs that have complaints:

I say just deal with it on a case by case basis. Of course if there is something bad about the tattoo it should not be visible to everyone. I agree with them on that, and I don't think anyone would argue with me on that. But like someone else said if the Officers have his kids name on his arm I think that should make people more comfortable. That shows people that the Officers are a family man.

I hope I am not rambling but this is how I feel. Be Safe Everyone!

Explorer Dan Simons, Skokie Ill

I have been a Police Officer for 3 years with a small agency in Florida. I myself have 2 tattoos, one on each forearm. They are products of my service in the United States Marines Corps. There are several Officers and a couple Lieutenants that wear their tattoos in the open. I do not believe that tattoos are unprofessional especially in the day and age we are in today. My department also allows goatees while on duty year round. I also don’t think that goatees are unprofessional if it is neat, trimmed and doesn’t make you look like "Grisly Adams."

I believe that if the tattoos are offensive in language or there is nudity involved, then obviously they are inappropriate. But the ones that I have are only tribal lines and cool colors which don’t have any words or nude pictures. They are in my views, appropriate for any job. If you are some old fashioned, old timer, old school administrator that thinks tattoos are still taboo, then you need to go to some cultural diversity classes. Tattoo's are in and they are here to stay and as generation "X" gets older and starts to put on the uniform of a Public Servant as so many of us have already done, then expect to see more of them.

I say do not judge me because of the ink that I have on my skin, but judge me on my job performance, skills and knowledge. And if the tattoo gets in my way and begins to affect my job performance, skills or knowledge, then I will gladly have my tattoo's removed.

Officer Jonathan Mallard
Ocoee Police Department
Ocoee, Florida

I find it very hard to believe that the Houston Police Dept is more concerned with an officer's tattoos than dealing with criminal actions including illegal immigration. I don't have any tattoo's myself nor do I plan on getting any, but these officer's should not be singled out for it. As a federal law enforcement officer and as a citizen I'm incensed that politicians don't have their priorities in order. I have friends who have multiple tattoos on them and they are some of the nicest people you could ever meet. These officers are being stigmatized which is very unfair to say the least. Leave these officer's alone and let them do their jobs as they have enough to worry about.


Steve Stahl
Hebron, KY

The Los Angeles Police Department has currently finalized their decision regarding visible Tattoos.

While on duty all Tattoos shall be covered. Officers can use make up, flesh colored bandages, or long sleeves.

The League of the LAPD did investigate the possibility of only officers with "offensive" Tattoos cover them. The problem lies with what is offensive to whom.

I agree with our Department policy that while on duty all Tattoos are covered. Some of the recent Tattoos I have seen on officers arms are better covered while on duty.

Sergeant II David Porras
Training Coordinator
Operations-Central Bureau

As a police officer bearing several tattoos, I feel that visible tattoo's do present a non-professional image. However, I feel that the department should not retroactively implement policies which will endanger the welfare of their officer's or the department as a whole. I wholly understand the chief's feelings on professionalism within the agency. I could understand if the department adopted a new policy affecting all new hires and new ink on existing officers. The officers who already bear the ink should be allowed to be "grandfathered" in so long as their ink is not offensive in nature. There are many things which we can all agree upon which would be viewed as offensive (i.e. nudity, profanity, and items discriminatory in nature).

On a side note, I also have piercing. These too are in areas where they do not project a non-uniform image of my department. Piercings are generally prohibited by all departments, and seem to be even more taboo than tattoo's.

Ofc. J. Lafary
Carrabelle Police Department

I got a tattoo when I got out of the Police Academy in 2002.I got the Twin Towers and a Eagle holding a American flag in the middle of it, it really means a lot to me ,but I did make sure that it did not come below my uniform shirt. I think that if you don't care for your children to see it then it’s not that big of a deal. But I can see if you got one that covers from finger tips up, could make a first bad impression.


Professional is not a look, it is the way you act, how you do your job and the way you treat people. It is like Respect and Loyalty, it has to be earned. I’ve known a lot of officer’s who looked great in their uniforms, very Professional, but I wouldn’t want them to be with me or near me in any type of situation. I have 2 tattoos, you can’t see them while I’m uniform, but they are there. Take a look around. In today’s world most of your young people out there sport a tattoo somewhere. It has become sort of the norm. Lastly, are you ready to disqualify a very large, highly trained, segment of potential recruits? I would hate to be the one to say sorry son or young lady, you served your country well while you were in the military and you have everything we are looking for but we can’t hire you because of your tattoo.

Nicholas Chakur
Deputy Director of Public Safety
Center Line, Michigan

As a police officer in the South, Charleston to be exact, I feel as though making any police officer, whether it is male or female, wear a long sleeve shirt to cover a tattoo is absurd. In the summer with 100+ degrees, 120 w/heat indexes this is something that should not even be considered. The last time I checked persons were not hired or fired due to their tattoos the interview, hiring process and fto training process is to weed out those who can not make it as a cop not to find out whether they have tattoos and whether or not they are obscene. Seems as though that would fall somewhere along the lines of discrimination.

It is hard enough now to find good qualified police officer material w/o having to hunt down persons without tattoos. Just as everyone has lives so do police officers. Tattoos are an expression and as a military person who had received a "naked lady" tattoo back in the day why should I be punished for my actions when I served this country and placed my life on the line for others and when I come home to serve my county or city again, as a police officer, I am chastised for it.

Tattoos do not make the person, morals, ethics and professionalism makes the person. As police officers we are trained to not make decisions on what we see of a person but what a person has done as an illegal act or an act of criminal nature. We do not go out and look at a person standing next to us covered in tattoos and automatically decide that this person is guilty of something only because he/she has visible signs of "ART".

I have tattoos but they are always concealed and I would not have to wear any type of special uniform to conceal them. Where they are is my choice and the same goes for anyone else. They do not change my attitude or demeanor towards anyone and I do not expect to be looked at differently for having them. I was 38 when I received my first one and I made a conscious decision to get it, I do not feel that any employer should be able to decide what goes on or off of my body.

Sheila Lee
South Carolina

This is a tough issue with no clear answers in my opinion. My agency has also enacted a no visible tattoo policy, which fortunately is not retro active. I myself have two tattoos, both on the upper arms and are not visible in short sleeve attire. They are both patriotic in nature and I doubt they would be offensive to anyone. In fact, I get compliments on them while off duty. I did have plans to get one on my calf, but now cannot if I ever plan to work bike patrol again where we wear shorts.

Several of our officers have tattoos and a couple of them have tattoos that are visible either in short sleeve uniforms or shorts. I personally do not have a problem with tattoos, however, I do feel that multiple visible tattoos while in uniform looks unprofessional, especially if they are just random "prison type" tattoos. I would not want to see someone like that wearing a police uniform because it does reflect upon the agency's image. On the other hand I think some tattoos, such as mine look okay. The question is, how do you choose what tattoos are appropriate and which are not? The answer is that you can't without discrimination. It's all or nothing I suppose.

Sergeant Rob Hatchell with the Independence (OR) PD

This is a very hard question as there are so many opinions among our rank and file. I am one who thinks visible tattoos due give a unprofessional appearance (my tattoo is on my shoulder), but having a partner with many visible forearm tattoos showed me some things. Often his tattoos made him more "human" to many "classes" of people. Civilians who would never talk to me or others would walk up to him and carry on a conversation (good P.R.). Once when looking for a wanted subject my partner was told where the subject was in the house by a subject who was engrossed in my partners tattoo. We have also gotten information/tips, because my partner was more "approachable" than other officers. While working narcotics with him I was told often that he would be the best U.C. to make the buy because of his tattoos.

My thought is start the restriction with new hires, and be aware you may lose a officer who is top notch because of this policy.

Md. officer

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