Lawsuit challenging Chicago police policy on tattoos is tossed out
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by three Chicago police officers who challenged the Chicago Police Department’s new policy that requires officers to cover up any visible tattoos.
According to the Chicago Tribune, U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras ruled that the city’s goal of having a professional looking department outweighed the officers’ interests in expressing themselves by having visible tattoos.
When the lawsuit was filed in July, Officers Daniel Medici, John Kukielka, and Dennis Leet, argued that the crackdown on visible tattoos by the department violated their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and expression.
Kocoras argued that it would be harder for officers to establish trust in the communities they protect if they have visible tattoos.
“Due to a tattoo’s unique character, if this Court allowed on-duty police officers to display their tattoos, we would undermine the CPD’s ability to maintain the public’s trust and respect, which would negatively impact the CPD’s ability to ensure safety and order,” Kocoras wrote in his opinion.
The new changes the Chicago Police Department implemented in June states that tattoos and body brandings cannot be visible on officers “while on duty or representing the department, whether in uniform, conservative business attire or casual dress.”
The new rule also states that visible tattoos on the neck, hands, face and other areas are to be covered with “matching skin tone adhesive bandage or tattoo cover-up tape.”
The rule also prohibits officers in uniform from wearing baseball caps or knit caps in the winter.
According to the lawsuit, Officer Medici is a former Marine, who served in Iraq. He has a “wings and halos” tattoo in remembrance of his fallen brothers. Medici also has a religious tattoo.
Officers Kukielka and Leet both served in the Air Force, they both have a religious tattoo of St. Michael, the patron and protector of police officers, paramedics, firefighters and the military.
In the lawsuit, the attorney representing the three officers said patrol officers who are forced to wear extra clothing to cover up their tattoos are at risk of experiencing overheating in the warm months, as well as skin irritation and discomfort from the tape.
In his ruling, Judge Korocas said certain tattoos can be misinterpreted by observers. To prove his point, he cited a court case in which personnel at an Iowa high school interpreted one student’s modest hand tattoo as being gang-related.
Korocas also cited the Confederate flag as an example. He said that while some people see the flag as a symbol of honor and valor, others see it as a symbol of racial inequality.
“Due to the fact that symbols can be so easily misinterpreted, regulation of tattoos by their content would be unworkable and ineffective,” Kocoras wrote.
A police source familiar with the policy has said the changes were prompted by younger officers whose tattoos were “over-the-top.”