Want to avoid being part of a social media firestorm? Start covering up.
That's the gist of a new policy the Philadelphia Police Department has crafted for police officers who have tattoos and other forms of visible body art. The move comes five months after the department became entangled in a controversy over an officer who was photographed on duty in a polo shirt that showed off tattoos on his arms that many critics believed were Nazi-inspired.
Directive 6.7 is scheduled to take effect March 1 and will prohibit officers from having any tattoos that are "offensive, extremist, indecent, racist or sexist while on duty," according to a copy of the policy obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News.
Head, face, neck, and scalp tattoos are also forbidden. Officers who already have them will be expected to cover them with cosmetics or clothing. Tattooed eyebrows won't be banned, but the department is opposed to more extreme types of body art, like "tongue splitting or bifurcation," unnaturally colored contact lenses, branding, and "abnormal filing of teeth." (The policy is nothing if not thorough.)
Supervisors will be expected to look for any signs of prohibited tattoos. If an officer refuses to cover up body art, he or she could be sent to the Records and Identification Unit to have the images photographed, and the matter would be passed on to a departmental Tattoo/Body Art Review Board, according to the policy.
"This is something we haven't addressed in the past," police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said. "We looked at other police departments and other industries, and tried to come up with something that would be fair. You want to make sure you aren't being offensive to your work population or to the people you're serving."
John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, said the union would likely file a complaint with the state Labor Relations Board over the new policy, because it was crafted unilaterally instead of through collective bargaining.
Last September, a photo of Officer Ian Lichterman from a protest march at the Democratic National Convention went viral on social media. The word Fatherland was tattooed across his left forearm, above another tattoo of an outstretched eagle. The artwork bore a striking resemblance to the Parteiadler, a national emblem adopted by the Nazis in 1935.
Mayor Kenney called the image "disturbing," while McNesby dismissed the outcry over the tattoo as much ado about nothing. An Internal Affairs investigation was launched, but Lichterman, a 17-year veteran of the force, was cleared of any potential wrongdoing in January.
A number of other law enforcement agencies lack policies on tattoos, including the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Sheriff's Office, and SEPTA Transit Police.
"Law enforcement is constantly evolving," Stanford said. "We're trying to address the issues and concerns that people had, but it's not that easy or cut and dried."