Crime & Courts

Wichita police officer hopes letting cops show tattoos will help with recruitment

File photo

Wichita police officers could soon show their body ink if a potential regulation change is approved, and department staff hope it would help with recruitment.

Officer Anthony Villegas, a Patrol East community police officer, told the Wichita police Citizen Review Board last week that he hopes the department will revise its policy.

Current regulation states that tattoos must not show while an officer is on duty, regardless of whether the officer is in uniform or civilian clothes, Villegas said. Facial, head and neck tattoos are not permitted under policy.

Capt. Chet Pinkston said the tattoo policy has been debated within the department for the last decade.

“We’re starting to see, frankly, where it’s impacting our ability to attract quality applicants,” he said. “So we have to revisit it from time to time.”

The proposed change would continue to prohibit any “offensive design, logo or wording” from showing while on duty, in addition to head, neck and hand tattoos, Villegas said. Other tattoos would still have to be covered up when officers and other employees appear in court, at city council and other government meetings, at department ceremonies and funerals for public safety officials and while escorting a VIP or dignitary.

One ring tattoo would be permitted on one finger on one hand, and cosmetic tattooing would be allowed for women who use it to apply permanent facial makeup so long as it has a “natural appearance.”

Department employees would need to submit a form on their visible tattoos and receive their supervisor’s approval.

Villegas rolled down a black sleeve on his left forearm, revealing a tattoo. He said it was of a Hispanic woman and was a family tattoo. He explained to the board that his form would include a photo and say he has a tattoo of a woman on his left forearm. A supervisor would determine whether or not it is acceptable. If not it, would have to remain covered up.

Complaints from the public about offensive tattoos would be handled through the existing complaint process, Villegas said.

In an internal poll of the police department, 82 percent of the 529 respondents supported modifying the policy to allow visible tattoos, Villegas said. About 60 percent supported a proposed screening process that requires supervisor approval of tattoos.

If the policy were to change, 23 percent said they have tattoos that would be displayed in a regular uniform.

Police spokesman Officer Charley Davidson said the department and Chief Gordon Ramsay had no comment on the potential tattoo regulation change and how it would affect recruitment.

“We have nothing to report on that issue at this time,” Davidson said.

The review board unanimously supported the potential policy change.

If approved, a policy change would lead to an increase in the pool of potential applicants, Villegas said.

He said a department academy detective did not have a number of how many potential recruits had been turned away because of the policy. He said he knows two people personally who wanted to work for the Wichita Police Department but didn’t apply because of the tattoo policy. One now works in the aircraft industry, and the other for Kansas City, Mo., police.

The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office and Haysville and Goddard police allow visible tattoos, Villegas said. Maize police do not.

“Departments nationwide are bridging the generational gap by revising policy and regulation to be more inclusive and progressive, thus attracting more applicants to increase their recruiting pool,” according to Villegas’ presentation.

The department also has a facial hair policy. It allows mustaches that don’t go past the corners of the mouth. No goatees or beards are permitted.

“I’m hoping that if this gets passed, we can kind of show that the social norms is acceptable by the citizens of the city of Wichita,” Villegas said. “And if our officers behave themselves and do a good job and set a good example for our department, hopefully we can maybe change the facial hair policy later on down the road.”

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