Tattoos, Turbans, and Beards


NEW YORK – The traditional looking cop has evolved. While “Joe Friday” served his time; tattoos, turbans, and beards are in play in many organizations.

While old-timers fondly remember the character from the late 60s TV show, Dragnet, the younger generation of crime fighters have moved on.

Compelled to consider tattoos, turbans, and beards

Consequently, police departments, compelled by a hiring crisis and eager for diversity in the application pool, are relaxing traditional grooming standards. They are getting away from rules that used to require a uniform conservative appearance. As a result, older generations might say, “They’ve let their hair down.” But Millenials simply voice that tattoos, turbans, and beards are trending up.

There are more officers are on the job with tattoos inked on their forearms, beards on their chins or religious head coverings like hijabs and turbans, reported Fox News. Furthermore, in some places, the hijab and turban is in place of — or tucked beneath — their blue hats.

“My turban is a part of me,” said Mandeep Singh, among 160 Sikhs in the New York City Police Department. Last month they were allowed to wear navy blue turbans in lieu of standard-issue police caps. “This opens a gate for other potential candidates who felt they could not be a police officer because they would have to choose either the job or their faith.”

Another example is found in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 2014 they created a special hijab for its first female Somali Muslim officer.

Muslim NYPD Officer Masood Syed, who grows a beard for religious reasons, was suspended for its length. He sued his department last year over a rule requiring beards to be trimmed to within a millimeter of the skin. As a result, the department changed the length to a half-inch and reinstated him. But Syed’s suit is still pending, because he said the length is arbitrary and it should be case by case, depending on the officer’s needs.

It’s a new day

“It’s 2017,” Syed said. “The police department is supposed to reflect the community that it’s policing.”

Yet opponents to the uniform alterations argue officer safety is compromised. Accessible lengths of hair, regardless of its’ origin, can be used by a fighter as an advantage and a weapon against the officer.

However, many departments say it’s tougher to attract candidates to a physically demanding job that offers low pay and is under intense public scrutiny. As a result, that has led many to make a nod to shifting fashion trends.

Much as seasoned veterans might disagree, tattooed millennials find these modifications refreshing; even enlightening.

Most noteworthy, police agencies that look the other way if a recruit comes in with visible tattoos include New Orleans, Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and Pinellas Park, Florida.

“Modern practice is colliding with dress codes,” said Will Aitchison, an attorney who represents police unions during labor-related disputes. “And what police departments really should be focused on is how the officer performs his or her job, as opposed to how they look.”

A female ordinance officer in Dearborn, Michigan is authorized to wear a hijab on-duty:

Survey says . . .

In Kansas, state police did a public survey on whether officers should be allowed to have tattoos. It was meant to help determine whether to change their policy after 100 trooper vacancies remained unfilled.

Half of the nearly 20,000 respondents had tattoos themselves. Sixty-nine percent said the department shouldn’t have a policy prohibiting visible tattoos, according to the Fox report.

“We were surprised by the response,” said Lt. Adam Winters. “It just doesn’t seem to bother people.”

Still, the department’s prohibition on visible tattoos has remained in place. In part because of the potential challenge of regulating the content of tattoos that might be offensive.

Free speech versus requirement to represent department

The Philadelphia Police Department is one of several agencies that developed problems after expanding their acceptance of tattoos. Reportedly last fall, an officer in uniform with a tattoo on his forearm showing a Nazi symbol and a spread-winged eagle under the word “Fatherland,” created issues. As a result, they are considering tightening their policy.

While officers have the right to free speech, the content might conflict with organizational values. When these statements are on public display in police uniform, there is perceived tacit approval that creates conflict.

A police sergeant in Roswell, Georgia was fired for flying the Confederate flag at her home. What if she had a tattoo of the flag on her arm?

Chicago lawsuit

In Chicago, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by tattooed officers. Each plaintiff was a military veteran that objected to a new requirement to wear long sleeves to cover their inked arms. This demand during a sweltering Midwestern summer was understandably uncomfortable.

The judge argued it would be too difficult for departments to determine what would be considered offensive and need to be covered. So everyone with tattoos was ordered to wear long sleeves.

But, the police brass recently started allowing them to wear short sleeves again. They said it served as a morale booster for a beleaguered force.

Public discussion

What is your opinion? Are tattoos, turbans, and beards acceptable, or compromising?

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