Photo courtesy of Norfolk Police Department.
The Norfolk, Virginia Police Department has recently changed their policies to allow officers with tattoos and beards to serve in their ranks. Historically, these two physical attributes have been a barrier for applicants who were otherwise qualified for a career in law enforcement.
“I don’t think anyone who calls the police for help cares whether the responding officer has a beard or tattoo,” Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone said in a press release about the policy change. “Our appearance in uniform may have changed, but our professionalism, performance, and expectation from the community have not.
Boone agreed to change the policy after input from his staff. In an interview with local WAVY.com, he said “I do know off the top of my head about 10 incidents where I have turned down people in the past for tattoos, and my staff was pushing me saying ‘chief, this is all they have,’ and me in my old school thinking so to speak, I missed out.”
Boone confirmed that there will still be standards though. According to the press release, beards must be well-groomed and kept relatively short, while the tattoos “deemed extremist, indecent, sexist, or racist” are prohibited, regardless of visibility. Additionally, Police officers currently employed by Norfolk Police Department are required to obtain approval prior to getting a new tattoo. These guidelines are similar to requirements other police departments around the country who allow tattoos and beards. The change is expected to be attractive to applicants of all ages.
Not only does the policy change allow the department to cast a wider net when hiring new officers, but will allow officers to feel more comfortable while on duty and assist them in connecting with the people they serve and protect. A recent Pew Research Center study said approximately 38 percent of people ages 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo.
Many law enforcement officers around the country agree with the policy change. “I think it makes an officer more approachable,” said Kenneth Bombardieri, a Dupo, Illinois, police officer. “More like everyone else.”
“Visible tattoos do not diminish our capability to do our jobs,” said Marc Ross, a San Bernardino County probation officer, “and in today’s climate, I feel tattoos are more acceptable.”
Norfolk isn’t the first police department to soften their policies on beards and tattoos. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Columbus, Ohio have eased up on officer grooming standards as well. It seems more police departments are opening up to the idea that people with tattoos and beards are just as capable of being officers as those without.
“Allow your officers the options,” Bombardieri said. “A beard and tattoos don’t make an officer. You’re either a good officer or a bad officer.”
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.
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