Photo Caption: An example of a service oriented tattoo, although not one worn by a current Atascadero Police officer. Used with permission of the artist, from Santa Maria-based RawViolet Tattoos, whose clientele include law enforcement.
ATASCADERO - Several of the sworn police officers employed by the City of Atascadero have tattoos, but the public has no idea which, unless one knows them personally and off duty.
That’s due to a department policy in place for nearly 15 years which mandated a more conservative appearance for personnel on duty, a policy which Atascadero Police Department Chief Jarel Haley is loosening in the name of openness and keeping pace with modern culture.
The temporary modification to their uniform code was implemented on a trial basis, Sept. 1 and continues through Nov. 1, in order, the Chief said in an announcement, to judge public reaction and solicit feedback.
Officers are still prohibited from getting head, neck, face and hand tattoos, and offensive imagery or displaying any new work they've had done since the change went into effect.
“It basically allows them to wear short sleeve shirts in the summer,” said then Sgt. Robert Molle, now Lt. Molle since promotion over the Labor Day weekend. “Each officers’ have been reviewed. It is about being more progressive more than anything though, obviously it’s up to them what they show.”
The policy amendment was requested several months ago by an individual officer looking for the freedom not to wear long sleeve shirts to cover tattoos during Atascadero’s summer temperatures, but such things take time to review.
Officers have been allowed to show some artful skin in the past, Lt. Molle explained, but at the time restrictions went into effect there weren’t any officers sporting ink.
Rather than emphasis the comfort factor in requiring them to be “covered up” on patrol, he added that a policy shift would be more in line with modern community police work.
While allowing officers to show a little bit more of their personality in conducting public outreach on the beat, public feedback is encouraged in person at the station, on the phone, or — in another example of modernity — through comments and messages to the department’s Facebook page.
In a department memo dated Aug. 27 and quoted in the public announcement, Chief Haley wrote, “This trial period will be used to determine if a permanent modification to the tattoo policy is warranted and viable. Tremendous weight will be given to the public input our department receives during this process.”
The announcement reiterated that, “The public will have a big part of the deciding vote on whether we implement this new policy on a permanent basis or not. The Atascadero Police Department will be releasing information on our Facebook page to give people a chance to respond.”
The initial 37 responses posted publicly to the site over the long weekend were overwhelmingly positive, with Facebook user Nick Russel noting that, “I honestly don't understand what the big deal is. I would not look at the officer with a full sleeve tat any differently than the officer with none. It's just artwork, and they'll still be doing their job. This is an overdue policy update.”
Other commenters with ties to service organizations noted just how many officers they know personally do have tattoos, a trait shared by many in high stress, small unit oriented professions.
Possible outcomes of the change include a permanent policy modification, a summertime exemption, or a return to current standards.
If a decision is made at the end of this trial period to maintain the current standards, then all department members will be required to again cover all of their tattoos.