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Springfield Police Department will allow officers to have visible tattoos on duty

Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 8:38 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Visible tattoos have been off limits for Springfield police for a long time. Now, officers don’t have to cover up ink on their arms anymore. It’s an attempt to recruit more people as the department struggles to fill open positions.

Ethen Jackson has been tattooing at Hearts of Fire studio for seventeen years. During that time, he’s seen the industry and attitudes about it change.

“It’s gotten more popular, more socially accepted,” he said.

Jackson said tattoos are an art form of personal expression. He said they can range from small religious symbols to larger pieces covering entire sections of a person’s body.

“It’s kind of all across the board. Everybody’s got their own idea of what they want these days,” he said.

Jackson said some of the people coming through the doors are police officers.

Until this point, Springfield police officers with tattoos on their arms were required to wear long sleeved uniforms. Now, those tattoos can be visible with short sleeved uniforms. Tattoos above the shoulders are still not allowed.

Ultimately, though, Police Chief Paul Williams said he will make the final decision about each visible tattoo.

“You could say it’s in the eye of the beholder, but I think there are certainly some things obscene, pornographic that we would all agree you don’t want to see,” he said.

Williams said the idea for the policy change came straight from his patrol officers. As the department struggles to fill open jobs, Williams hopes allowing tattoos will widen the pool for qualified applications.

He said the department has 33 fewer officers than what it is allowed and seven more will retire by the start of March.

Williams said the police recruitment academy scheduled to start in February was postponed until February because there were only five recruits accepted. He said he hopes to double or even triple that class by April, when the academy was rescheduled.

He said until a few years ago, the department had a strict policy against any and all tattoos. Then, Williams said, he allowed candidates to have ink, but it had to be covered on the job. He said that change did increase applications.

“If we can bring some more folks in by making that simple change, I’m willing to do it,” Williams said.

The chief said there are other potential benefits to the policy change as well, like officer morale and even connections with community members.

“If it encourages someone to strike up a conversation or ask, compare tattoos as an example, I think that’s a good thing,” he said.

Jackson said the job of a police officer is a difficult one and says they deserve a small sense of humanity on duty.

“To let them walk around with their sleeves out there, yeah, I think it sends a message to the community that they’re people too. They’re not just a uniform with a blank face,” Jackson said.

Chief Williams said his department will continue to seek out only the best applicants. He said qualified candidates have no criminal history and a strong moral compass as well as strong decision-making and communication skills.

Williams said starting pay for a new officer is now $40,000 per year, which he also hopes will attract more applicants.

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