New Orleans Cops Ordered to Cover Tattoos
Ok, even I, with all my tattoo law nerdiness, am getting tired of all the "tattoo discrimination" news articles, but I wanted to briefly highlight yet another recent case of dress code policies and discrimination. On August 1st, New Orleans police must cover all visible tattoos or face discipline -- or even termination.
Cops covering up is nothing new. I wrote about police officer tattoo policies in Arizona, and also dress codes for certain Canadian police departments. In my writing, I've held a more conservative view (which is changing) that private employers have a general right to institute dress code policies and make appearance-based hiring decisions, as long as the discrimination is not based on a protected class. However, public employees have a greater deal of protection when it comes to discrimination in hiring and dress policies, and in the case of cops, the practicalities of the job should trump outdated ideas of who gets tattooed.
Raymond Burkart III, attorney and spokesman for the NOLA Fraternal Order of Police, said it best: "As we reach temperatures close to 100 degrees on some days, [the new policy] just seems like cruel and unusual punishment, just because you are proud that you served in the U.S. Navy or you put the name of your child on your arm." He added: "Does the person calling 911 in an emergency situation really care whether a police officer's tattoo is visible? They just want a police response and a timely one. Does it matter that an officer who catches an armed robber has a tattoo? You took a dangerous criminal off the street. We have to ask ourselves: Are we prioritizing our reforms?"
The argument of the New Orleans Police Department is that they wish to give a more "professional appearance to law enforcement officers." I may have agreed with this ten years ago, when I first started writing about tattoo discrimination; however, as I mentioned, my views are changing -- and it's because society is changing.
The latest tattoo statistics in the US are the following: one in five U.S. adults has at least one tattoo; 38% of adults aged 30-39 are most likely to have a tattoo; and women are slightly more likely than men to have a tattoo.
So, considering just how many tattooed Americans exist today -- and now add the non-tattooed people who love us -- what is the current reality that people will negatively react to the tattooed cops, lawyers, teachers, and baristas they are coming across at this very moment? I'll tell ya: waaaay less than they did ten years ago.
I'm not saying that people should continue to tattoo their faces and then email me because they want help suing companies that won't hire them. Stop that. Discrimination is wrong. That said, we also have to be practical and facial tattooing still carries a great deal of negative stigma. And so perhaps the most realistic fight should be for dress code policies that reflect current societal norms. So, if my mom is watching multitudes of tattoo TV shows and my high society sis knows more about Kat Von D than I do ... well, it seems that mass culture has accepted tattoo culture to a great extent. As such, the NOLA PD and others around the country need to reconsider their stance and realize that being professional is about doing good work, not how good you look while doing it.