At a time when the Oklahoma City Police Department is looking for a few good officers, the head of the police union says a hiring policy banning some tattoos is preventing some of the best qualified applicants from joining the ranks.
John George, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123, said he's aware of several instances of the department rejecting former military members for jobs because they sported visible body art. Others didn't bother to apply because of the prohibition, he said.
“These are veterans that need jobs. We're turning them down, and they're going to work other places,” George said. “They try to downplay it that we're not losing very many, but we're losing good people because of it.”
Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty disagrees, saying the department enjoys an abundance of qualified, tattoo-free applicants, among them military veterans.
“I don't buy the fact we're losing really good recruits,” Citty said.
Citty defended the department's tattoo policy, the result of a 2007 arbiter's decision. Under the policy, applicants with a “significant” amount of visible tattoos will not be considered for hire. Those with an “insignificant” amount of visible tattoos may go forward in the application process and be given the chance to medically remove tattoos at their own expense.
“If people want to have tattoos and want to be police officers, they have to get them removed,” Citty said.
The department doesn't track those who voluntarily remove tattoos to improve their chances for employment. But in the last two years, at least three officers had tattoos medically removed before joining the force, police spokesman Capt. Dexter Nelson said. Others removed tattoos but later were not hired for other reasons.
While he's not against tattoos, Citty said law enforcement officers serve the general public and need to appear unbiased.
Over the years, Citty said he's fielded several citizen complaints regarding tattooed officers.
“Having tattoos and visible symbols is not appropriate for a law enforcement agency in my opinion,” Citty said. “That's where we are right now and that's where we'll stay.”
Efforts by The Oklahoman to interview a tattooed veteran rejected for hire by Oklahoma City were unsuccessful. George, the union president, said those he spoke with did not want to discuss their cases publicly for fear of damaging employment opportunities elsewhere.