Capitol Police ink up new restrictions on tattoos

Tuesday - 7/24/2012, 11:14am EDT

Jon Adler, President, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association

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Some Capitol Police officers may begin sporting long sleeves and pants even in the dog days of summer.

Capitol Police officials are considering new rules that would require officers to cover up their tattoos while on duty. Rank and officers worry that the rule is too subjective and would allow police leadership to decide which size and type of tattoo can skirt the long shirt and pants requirements.

Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, told The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp that officers agree they should not display any body art that is obviously offensive.

Jon Adler, president, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association

But officers, many of whom served in the military, don't believe they should have to hide patriotic tattoos on their arms and don't believe their body art undermines their ability to do the job nor the public's confidence in their work, Adler said.

"Do we sort of invoke a motion picture ratings system of well you can't have a rated 'R' or 'X' tattoo that might otherwise express some form of profanity, nudity, a partisan viewpoint maybe, certainly I hope we wouldn't have gang affiliation, but something that might suggest some sort of violence?" Adler said.

Adler is most concerned with a provision that would also limit the size of the tattoo. Tattoos that take up more than one-third of the area of a forearm or leg would have to be covered, he said.

He said changing the rules is unfair to incumbent officers, who may have existing tattoos that wouldn't meet the proposed rules.

Federal police must describe their tattoos and where they are located when they apply for the job. Some officers say they have been passed over for promotions because of their tattoos, Adler said.

"In law enforcement, we're defined by the honor in our heart and not the ink on our skin. Applying sort of consistency and fairness ultimately makes for good policy," Adler said.

Adler represents men and women working for 65 different federal agencies — most have general grooming policies, which typically don't specifically address tattoos.

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