Butler County law enforcement agencies are debating allowing officers to show their tattoos while on duty to change with the times and allow for a bigger pool of good potential employees, officials said.
In April, the sheriff’s office changed its policy that required deputies to wear sleeves, makeup or long shirts to cover visible arm tattoos. The department does not allow neck, face or hand tattoos and additional tattoos acquired after hiring must be approved. Tattoos on the leg are covered by the uniform.
“The sleeves and makeup were problematic,” said Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer. “The sleeves for cover-up really didn’t look professional and were hot in the summer.”
Dwyer, who has two tattoos, one on each hip, added that “times have changed and the number of applicants who have tattoos has changed significantly.”
Sheriff Richard Jones said he agrees with the a softening or “evolution” of the policy, but he does not personally like arm tattoos.
“I have people who have tattoos on their arms and you can see them. Do I like that? No I do not, but I compromise as long as the are not anything against our policy,” Jones said.
He talked about the policy while wearing his uniform. No tattoos were visible, but to the surprise of some, the sheriff has four tattoos, all acquired in the past three years.
Jones did not permit his son and daughter to get tattoos and had no desire for them himself for much of his life. But the 65-year-old changed is mind three years ago.
“Not sure why. I changed my mind,” he said.
Jones said he researched tattoo artists. He took his short-sleeve uniform shirt with him to make sure the tattoos were not visible while wearing it.
Jones has a barbed wire that circles his arm with “Carpe Diem” above it, and on the other arm he has a U.S. Army Combat Engineer logo with a castle symbol. He also has a tattoo of his sheriff’s badge over his heart.
“I am very patriotic, and I am proud to serve,” Jones said.
Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said he sought public input on the subject in the form of a Facebook poll. About 6,000 votes were received, and 90 percent of them favored letting officers display tattoos.
But the policy has not changed for that to happen.
“The fact is policing is changing. We need to take a look and see if we need to make some changes on that,” Muterspaw said.
He personally does not have tattoos.
“If I am sitting at home and I am a citizen of Middletown and somebody is kicking my door in, do I care if the officer has tattoos or not? I just want someone there to protect me. If I am having a heart attack, do I care if the medic has tattoos or facial hair? People are so caught up on image of what they say it is supposed to be like, they are discounting the character of the person coming.”
Hamilton, West Chester, Monroe and Fairfield police all require tattoos to be covered when officers are in uniform. Hamilton requires a tattoo covering more than 25 percent of the body to be covered;, and no face and neck tattoos permitted.
Fairfield Police Chief Steve Maynard, who has no tattoos, said the department is exploring the possibility of relaxing its policy.
“It has become more mainstream,” Maynard said, adding the majority of officer applicants have some form of visible tattoos. “We are all competing for the same good candidates.”
Fairfield Twp. police Chief Bob Chabali answered with a long “nooooo” when asked if he had tattoos.
“But the times have changed, ” Chabali said. “And we are all going to have to review our policy and maybe soften it, despite our personal feelings.”