Police Tattoo Policies in 2023 - 2024

Updated policies for 2024

A recent study estimates that nearly half of all Americans have at least one tattoo. As body artwork continues to become more common, workplaces are forced to relax their policies around tattoos. The idea that tattoos impact professionalism is slowly being erased. Even heavily regulated and uniformed careers like law enforcement are easing up on tattoo bans. Police departments nationwide are revising their dress codes in favor of visible ink. 

While this is generally good news for anyone aspiring to a law enforcement career, applicants should still be wary of police department tattoo guidelines. Each town and city is charged with creating its dress code, meaning tattoo regulations vary amongst departments.

Can Police Officers Have Tattoos?

Each township regulates its police department tattoo policies. As a result, each city has varying dress code expectations. For example, some departments prohibit visible tattoos and require officers to conceal their ink with makeup clothing. Other law enforcement tattoo policies are more lax and allow tattoos with minimal restrictions. 

However, there are some similarities across all police departments.

  1. Tattoo content is regulated and must be deemed professional and appropriate. In districts that allow visible ink, explicit, racist, sexist, and discriminatory content is forbidden. In addition, tattoos related to gang or criminal activity are entirely prohibited.
  2. Face and neck tattoos are discouraged. Even in the most relaxed police tattoo policies, it is suggested for officers to avoid getting inked on their face or neck to maintain a level of professionalism.
  3. Chest, back, leg, and upper arm tattoos are the safest bet. It is generally preferred that a standard police uniform can cover all ink. 

If you are considering a career as a police officer, it is always best to review law enforcement tattoo policies in each location you’d like to serve. Not only will this increase your chance of employment, it will also make it easier to avoid disciplinary actions.

Violations of dress code can vary from verbal warnings to official write-ups. Continued disregard of tattoo policies can prevent career advancement and even lead to termination.

Police Tattoo Policies Vary from State to State

Law enforcement tattoo policies are not federally regulated, so each department is free to establish its own guidelines and rules. Tattoo restrictions are included in police dress code policies. Limitations are enforced to create an image of professionalism and uniformity.

Police tattoo policies vary greatly, with some departments banning visible ink altogether. Others are much more lenient and only enact content restrictions on body art. To better understand the similarities and differences between law enforcement tattoo regulations, check out the police officer tattoo policy from each of the largest police departments in the United States, including the NYPD and LAPD. 

New York City Police Department (NYPD)

New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the US, so it is no surprise that the NYPD tattoo policy is relatively lenient. Its dress code notes two specific restrictions:

  1. Content – Tattoos featuring explicit, discriminatory, or gang-related content are prohibited. In addition, ink that could be interpreted as encouraging or relating to criminal activity is banned.
  2. Visibility – NYPD officers are encouraged to conceal all tattoos while in uniform. Face, neck, and hand tattoos are not allowed. The only exception is a thin band tattoo on the ring finger that substitutes a wedding ring. 

Overall, the New York City Police Department tattoo policy relates more to what ink represents than where the tattoo is located. In addition, officers can submit a tattoo waiver request to dispute any ink deemed “banned” by the department. If your tattoos violate the NYPD’s policy, easy compliance solutions include bandaids, full-coverage makeup, and laser tattoo removal.

Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)

Don’t let your tattoos stop you from applying to the LAPD! The Los Angeles Police Department prohibits visible ink while on duty, but officers can wear additional clothing or makeup to achieve compliance. Each LAPD candidate with tattoos is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Expect to be questioned about the meaning of your tattoo and why you chose to get it. Most body art is given the green light as long as it can be concealed by the uniform and doesn’t violate content restrictions. Tattoos depicting gang, criminal, racist, or other discriminatory artwork are strictly forbidden.

Chicago Police Department (CPD)

The Chicago Police Department is an excellent choice for individuals who love tattoos and are interested in a job in law enforcement. In 2016, the Chicago PD dress code policy was amended to allow visible ink on all officers. While face tattoos are still heavily discouraged, body art on the arms, hands, and neck are generally okay. Of course, like all law enforcement tattoo policies, the Chicago PD has zero tolerance for tattoos with explicit sexual content, derogatory language, criminal or gang affiliation, and discriminatory art. 

Houston Police Department (HPD)

The Houston Police Department is widely accepting of tattoos. Their dress code policy outlines a few limitations, such as:

  • Houston police officers cannot have tattoos visible above the collar. Any ink on the neck, face, or behind the ear must be covered with makeup. 
  • Tattoos with depictions of nudity, drugs, alcohol, gangs, criminal activity, or discriminatory and hateful symbols are prohibited. Body ink undermining the values and mission of the HPD is also banned.

Overall, the Houston Police Department has a very lenient tattoo policy. Officers can display ink on their hands, arms, or legs in uniform. As with most law enforcement tattoo policies, the content of the tattoo is more important than the location!

Phoenix Police Department (PPD)

The Phoenix Police Department’s tattoo policy has been greatly debated amongst government officials and police union representatives. The PPD widely discourages visible tattoos on officers in uniform; however, due to the increased popularity of body artwork, it isn’t realistic to ban all ink. Regulations suggest covering ink with flesh-colored bandage wraps, full-coverage makeup, or extra layers of clothing. However, due to the extreme heat in Phoenix, many police officers pushed back on this requirement. As a result, the PPD tattoo policy was slightly amended but still has very clear-cut guidelines, such as:

  • Phoenix police officers cannot have face, neck, or hand tattoos.
  • Visible ink on the arms or legs should be approximately the size of an index card and take up less than ⅓ of the body part.
  • Tattoos of gang symbols, racist organizations, derogatory words or phrases, and explicit content are banned regardless of tattoo placement. 
  • All tattoos are photographed and included in personnel files. Officers should report any additional ink acquired after their initial hiring.
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Impact of Tattoo Policies on Law Enforcement Officers

Complying with tattoo policies can be challenging for law enforcement officers. It is especially difficult for new recruitments with existing body artwork. But as long as permanent ink doesn’t have inappropriate content, there are ways to comply with even the strictest tattoo policy. For example, officers can:

  • Use full-coverage makeup to conceal ink.
  • Wear additional layers of clothing that cover up tattoos.
  • Place bandaids or flesh-covered bandages over visible body art
  • Get laser tattoo removal or cover up ink.

Understanding the tattoo policy of the police department you want to work for is critical. Many tattoo concealment options are effective but inconvenient, especially in hot climates. So, if you are considering a career as a police officer, it’s wise to keep potential dress code restrictions in mind before committing to permanent ink. Violating police department tattoo guidelines can limit career advancement and result in disciplinary action. 

Why Are Law Enforcement Tattoo Policies Becoming Less Strict?

  • Increased Demand for First Responders. Many towns and cities need more police officers. The application pool is increased by relaxing the dress code policy and tattoo requirements.
  • Prioritizing Self-Expression. Uniform policies were adopted to make every officer look the same. However, as the benefits and necessity of self-expression become increasingly important in society, government agencies are relaxing appearance regulations to be more accepting of differences. 
  • Society & Culture Shifts. With half the population sporting tattoos, it is undeniable that permanent ink is accepted and encouraged in most communities. As all other workplaces instate more lenient dress codes, it is unsurprising that police departments allow visible ink on uniformed officers.
  • Community Connection. Many police officers with tattoos report their artwork makes them more approachable and relatable to civilians. Tattoos offer a sense of humanity and connection, helping officers to seem less intimidating to community members. 

Resources for Understanding and Adhering to Police Tattoo Policies

Since police tattoo policies vary by department, how can you determine your town’s guidelines? The best and most accurate resources are on the city government or police department website. Check out the FAQ section on the police hiring page to determine which tattoos are (or aren’t) allowed on the force. In addition, most police departments offer recruitment fairs where prospective candidates can talk to officers and ask questions. These events are an excellent opportunity to get clarity on department policies.

If you dream of working as a police officer but have tattoos that violate department regulations, consider laser tattoo removal. Removery is a leading provider of laser tattoo removal and offers exclusive discounts for clients removing ink for employment compliance. Visit one of Removery’s convenient tattoo removal locations for a free consultation and explore treatment options. Most tattoos are eligible for complete removal – even artwork on the face! So, if you want to break from tattoos holding back your career aspirations, call Removery. Their knowledgeable staff is ready to help you achieve your tattoo goals.

Other US Military Tattoo Policies

See US Navy Tattoo Policy
See US Air Force Tattoo Policy
See USMC Tattoo Policy
See US Coast Guard Tattoo Policy
See US National Guard Tattoo Policy

Laser Removal for Tattoos that Violate Police Policy

If you plan to join the police department, you should speak to a branch representative to ensure your tattoos abide by their tattoo policy and that any tattoos in the military you plan to get will also conform to Army tattoo regulations. If your tattoos are in violation, you have options. We can help remove your tattoos effectively as the world's best laser tattoo removal, allowing you to join and be promoted within the branch.