Police departments all over the country are imposing tattoo bans of various scope on their officers, but it is unclear what difference these bans make on their abilities to enforce the law.
Most recently, the Honolulu Police Department announced a ban on any visible tattoos, piercings or “dental ornaments.” Existing tattoos must be covered with a long sleeve uniform or with makeup. (Yes, makeup.)
The new ban raises multiple concerns. Tattoos are a huge part of Hawaii culture, Polynesian tattoos in particular. Many see tattoos not as a fashion statement but as a statement of heritage. Similar issues were raised last year when the London Metropolitan Police banned some tattoos, since a portion of their force came from Pacific islands.
A Honolulu resident summed up the second problem best: “Somebody’s going to get a heat stroke,” Beverly Neely told KITV, referring to the suggestion that the officers wear long sleeve uniforms to cover their tattoos. Mark Spencer, then president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, raised the same concern when Phoenix banned tattoos in 2011. “Imagine having to wear long sleeves along with body armor, a gun belt and having to get in and out of a police car 50 times every day,” Spencer told the New York Times.
The New Orleans police department is in the process of reviewing its proposed tattoo ban in light of this concern. "As we reach temperatures close to 100 degrees on some days, it just seems like cruel and unusual punishment, just because you are proud that you served in the U.S. Navy or you put the name of your child on your arm," a Fraternal Order of Police spokesman said during this summer’s debate over the ban.
Finally, on an island where every branch of the military has at least one base, no doubt the Honolulu PD will also face the problem of a large portion of their officers having military backgrounds. The military has a strong tattoo culture, and veterans wear their ink with pride. Retired military members provide one of the best pools from which police departments could and should recruit.
“We're losing a lot of good applicants, especially veterans returning back from Iraq and Afghanistan," Vermont State Police Capt. David Notte said last year. Vermont is currently considering loosening its strict policies regarding tattoos in order to give themselves more recruiting options.
Baltimore, Los Angeles and New York all have tattoo bans of varying degrees, and smaller departments are clearly trying to follow suit. But what effect do tattoo bans have on the success of the officers? “The absence of visible tattoos gives a more professional appearance to law enforcement officers," an NOPD spokesperson argued.
Some officers agree, believing a tattoo-less police force will aid in their community interactions. Jeffrey Yzquierdo, who has a full-sleeve tattoo on his arm, had been with the Phoenix Police Department for 11 years when he told the New York Times that he had no problem with a tattoo ban. “Some people want nothing to do with me,” Yzquierdo said, indicating he was frustrated with the public’s negative response towards him because of his tattoos.
But many police departments’ bans involve an incredible amount of bureaucracy and nitpicking that possibly takes focus away from much more important concerns. Department bans specify the size of the allowable tattoos, “no greater than 3" X 3" size each” and only one on each arm for new hires in Palm Beach County. (For veterans, a little leeway: “No larger than a notecard.”) In Phoenix, tattoos could not be larger than a “3x5 index card.”
In departments where the ban only applies to new hires, like Des Moines, current officers had to document by photograph and report every tattoo they already had so that no new tattoo went unnoticed -- or unpunished.
As Honolulu moves forward with its tattoo ban, NOPD continues to reconsider its ban. It may be one of the few departments heeding the argument that the police have bigger fish to fry. According to The Advocate, New Orleans loses an average of one police officer every three days.
“I think it’s bad for the city,” Police Association of New Orleans President Mike Glasser said. “It accomplishes nothing. I don’t know if it makes for a more professional appearance, but it doesn’t make for more professional policing.”
In fact, when the Des Moines Police Department banned tattoos in 2009, police union president Stewart Barnes argued that his tattoos actually helped him do his job. Then 48 years old, Barnes said his ink helped local youth relate to him. “"They come up to me and talk to me about tattoos.”
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"Synyster Ink" tattooing a client. "How many of your 'clients' commit suicide after you tattooed them?"
"He should have used all that extra ink to tattoo bigger nipples on the guy."
"What I like about this is that only the wings are fresh. The wonky stars, thorns and DNA look healed so this person actually looked at the quality of work and came back for a second session."
"I hate all my tattoos when I see your work :("
"Can I open a lazer surgery next door I'll make millions?"
"A swan thats been hit by a car?" "Is that a stapler?"
"Haha it's those splodge tests you get to judge if you're insane or not." "I see a man Ripping people off and giving them shit tattoos."
"So, what I want is 2 snails, stretched, then squashed, with 4 big wonky stars, and don't forget the blood. Then to finish, I would like 3, unidentifiable shapes. Thanks very much, it's perfect!"
"this looks like when i would turn to the back page of my school book and doodle random letters. you captured the true feeling, bro." "You spelt Scratcher wrong."
"I wasn't gonna say anything but now i feel i've got to. Every single one of these tattoos looks like they've been done by a 5 year old with their wrong hand after drinking a bottle of whiskey. What would anyone be tattooed by this person?" "I fart better tattoos than this..."
"This looks like it was done by an eight year old."
"grim indeed" "I bet you are fully booked up till summer"
"it looks like a cyclops looking at....cake and an eye and sword hilts?"
"crap" "majik markers" "oh the horror" "omg this is awful was this done with crayons? And a blind fold"
"Groms? Froms?" "This is horrific!!! Please don't show anymore!!!! I hope he's not a friend of yours?!" "what did grams do to deserve this?"
"WTF?? Dude Please. Just give it up." "nice oreo" "just burn your tat license"
"it looks like a squashed vagina!!!"
"My cat could do better using its tail"
"I cant hang my head in shame enough to get this image out of it. This is a complete joke right? Was this hatch shaded with a colored pencil? and why doe the parrot have stitches in his head? This is just a damn shame."
"Yeah. That looks about all it's worth."
"this must be a joke :|" "her pinky toe is desperately trying to look away."
"I hope one of the saints players kick his ass for this horrible crap" "come on, thats a sharpie."
"she looks surprised. maybe she can't believe how much you suck." "Britney Spears on a meth binge"
"Someone call Animal Rescue" "It's awesome!!! Looks like one side is on roids and the other side is on crack!!"
"If you rubbed her on a gravel path it'd look better" "ProTip: Ink goes on the second layer of skin, you don't embed it in the bone. I hope this helps."
"love the groucho mustache" "Was this done in the dark?" "professional insight on covering up a tattoo: throw a bunch of black ink over it and call it a cloud"
"The butterfly that shits the rainbow" "um look at that toenail"
"my 7 year old sister draws better butterflies than this.." "it looks like a bunch of toes on the wings? :O"
"omg whats happening here. What has occured!?" "Looks like a tree made of shit"
"Why would someone post this shit...and actually be PROUD!?!? Of it??" "scribble jesus" "This borders on blasphemy."
"Elsie is turning in her grave" "Don't ya hate it when you start tattooing and then realise you have caps lock on..."
"please create an album of the people's reaction when they see their tattoo for the 1st time :) it must be priceless like your work"
"You should have gotten a mastectomy, it would have looked better than this." "BAHAHAHA! I laughed so friggin' hard when I saw this I just about died. I feel bad for your customer though Chris. People have to live with this stuff for the rest of their lives. Please for their sake stop tattooing."
"who in their right mind would use an old tube sock for a book marker in the Bible????"
"I always wanted to create a crayola effect like this" "is it a pizza?"
"is this a retarded zubat?" "If I ate ink, solid, for a week, and then took an ink dump in the same area this retarded bat was done, it would look like a fucking Picasso in comparison." "this looks like a picasso in comparison to a real bat"
"are those scales or a flannel shirt?" "Stevie Wonder school of tattooing"
"This is shocking work. The eyeballs are stuffed up. One is up and one is down." "what a happy tiger!"
"its obviously a blue car on human limb stilts with a man with a deflated tomato on his head driving..."
"Notice the extra claw coming through on top? He must have did that then remembered that eagles only have 2 feet. He didn't colour it in though so thats ok then!" "His sense of perspective is unlike anything I've ever seen in the art world. 200 years from now, people will look back on this tattoo and say 'Yes, the South WILL rise again.'"
"I really didn't know that horrible could be a style." "oh ive heard of this... the elusive crayola cat!"
"oh man maybe i will get stars from him. i always said never will i wear a star but with such clean line work i think i found my man"
"is that thing fuckin the grave?" "Looks like a demon having a wank behind a sewing machine! Got to admire that shading though!"
"How is that eagle on both sides of the flag? Only 14 states eh?"
"it looks like a 4 year old drew this on a placemat at Denny's"
"Nailed that one."
"did the cross decapitate jesus?" "I've always wanted a disembodied head of jesus christ on my bicep."