Home News KHP asking public for opinion on visible tattoos for troopers

KHP asking public for opinion on visible tattoos for troopers

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Jan. 09–Would you think less of the professionalism of a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper if he or she had visible tattoos?

The KHP would like to know your opinion about whether troopers and other agency personnel should be allowed to have tattoos that are visible while they are in uniform as the agency’s tattoo restrictions are being evaluated.

“Currently there’s a lot of tug-of-war between troopers on this issue,” said trooper Ben Gardner, spokesman for the Salina area. “We are asking, ‘What does the public want?’ since we are servants to them.”

Gardner said a 25-member committee of KHP representatives and civilians from across the state has been studying the issue of whether to change, maintain or abolish the agency’s tattoo policy, which was put into effect about 15 years ago.

He said the committee decided to seek public input into the decision, and the public is responding. The survey was announced Friday on social media and various media websites, and about 4,500 people had taken the survey by 12:30 p.m., Gardner said.

Tattooes survey
Screengrab from survey

The survey, which can be accessed online at http://goo.gl/forms/vyf3JAkwDL, will be open through Jan. 29 and can be taken anonymously by anyone. Gardner said the survey is not limited to Kansans because people from other areas travel through the state and the agency seeks applicants from out of state. He said results of the survey will likely be announced in early February.

Policy limits applicant pool

Currently, people are automatically disqualified from the patrol’s application process for having:

–Any offensive tattoo, scarification or brand, regardless of location on the body.

–Any tattoo, scarification or brand that would be visible when wearing an agency- provided uniform or required work attire.

–Any such marking(s) appearing on the head, face, neck, hands or arms below the bottom of the bicep.

Gardner said it’s not that troopers don’t have tattoos. Tattoos are currently allowed on chests, backs, legs, upper arms, and any area covered by the short-sleeved summer uniform. Gardner said he has three and he’d like to get another. There’s been a wrestler on his left shoulder since his senior year of high school, and he has a flag on his calf and a band around his bicep. He said some troopers have tattoos of their badge numbers.

“There are guys in our agency who have a lot of tattoos, but you wouldn’t know that,” Gardner said.

Tattoos part of culture

At the time the policy was implemented, Gardner said, troopers had to declare their tattoos, and those with existing, visible tattoos were grandfathered in. He said most troopers on duty now do not have tattoos on areas of their bodies not covered by their uniforms.

However, Gardner said the agency has been typically running about 100 troopers below a full staff of 550. To address the manpower shortage, a relaxation of the tattoo policy is one avenue being explored. Gardner said tattoos are so prevalent that typically when he speaks to an audience in an effort to recruit new troopers, about 25 percent of the people in the room have tattoos that would prevent them from consideration for the force.

He said that when he speaks at Fort Riley, he encounters even more people who are ineligible because of tattoos.

“Tattoos are part of the culture of military personnel,” he said. “Some guys don’t think about what limitations they may cause in the future.”

The U.S. Army recently instituted a policy that limited soldiers to four tattoos below the elbow or knee, none bigger than the wearer’s hand, but the policy was short-lived. In April, it was rescinded, although face, neck and hand tattoos still remain against regulation, except for one ring tattoo per hand. Racist, derogatory and sexist tattoos are also not allowed, the Army Times reported.

Expectations differ

Gardner said law enforcement agencies across the country handle tattoos in a variety of ways. Some require people to cover tattoos with special sleeves, bandages or makeup.

“There’s a wide variety of expectations,” he said.

— Reporter Erin Mathews can be reached at 822-1415 or by email at emathews@salina.com.

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(c)2016 The Salina Journal (Salina, Kan.)

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