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Police Union Defends Tattooed Officers' Right to Bare Arms With Grievance

By Mark Konkol | June 9, 2015 4:33pm | Updated on June 10, 2015 11:19am
 Chicago's police union plans to fight no-visible tattoo rule.
Chicago's police union plans to fight no-visible tattoo rule.
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Tattooed Chicago police officers ticked off about changes to the police department’s new uniform rules don’t plan to wear long sleeves without a fight.

A few hours after police Supt. Garry McCarthy issued an order requiring on-duty officers to cover up all their tattoos — and ditch baseball hats in favor of the iconic “crown” caps wrapped with a checkered band, among other changes — the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 announced plans to file an unfair labor practice charge with the Illinois Labor Board.

A statement on the FOP website says the department made changes to the uniform rules without first bargaining with the lodge.

“It remains the Lodge’s position that the dress code policy is a mandatory subject of bargaining, especially when it impacts current officers who have visible body tattoos and/ or body brandings,” according to the statement.

FOP spokesman Pat Camden declined to comment about the grievance. which was filed with the Illinois Labor Relations Board Tuesday afternoon.

The formal unfair labor practices charge states the CPD's "unilateral changes ... undermines the collective bargaining process," suggests the department "can and will take unilateral action" and "chills other employees in the exercise of their rights" under the state labor relations act, according to the union's complaint.

The new no-tattoo mandate states: "tattoos and body brandings will not be visible while on duty or representing the Department, whether in uniform, conservative business attire, or casual dress."

And "members assigned to uniform duty with tattoos or body brandings on their arms or legs that are visible when wearing the short-sleeve shirt or shorts will wear the prescribed long-sleeve shirt and long pants with appropriate neck wear, regardless of season."

If an officer has a neck tattoo or body art that isn’t covered by a long shirt, they’ll have to cover up with “skin tone adhesive bandage or tattoo cover up tape."

It’s not clear why McCarthy decided it was time for Chicago officers to cover up their body art.

Police spokeswoman Jennifer Rottner declined to answer questions.

Instead, she emailed a statement — an increasingly regular tactic used by Mayor Emanuel’s administration to avoid answering direct questions from reporters.

The email response, which did not address the tattoo issue, states: “The new uniform specifications have been adopted to promote uniformity and professionalism. Too many uniform variations became available, making Chicago police officers less immediately identifiable to the public.”

Apparently, long sleeves, bandages and tattoo-covering tape will help Chicagoans sort that out in a way that a badge, baseball cap and nametag never could.  

Some officers are upset about the uniform changes, but others — especially those with a little gray in their hair — say the order will help police command more respect on the street — especially when it comes to outlawing police baseball caps.

“Young coppers like the baseball caps, sure. But we’re the police not a f------ baseball team,” a source who called himself an “old-timer” said.

“A baseball cap doesn’t command respect. The crown cap is the insignia of the police department and I think what the department was trying to do was get that respect back. They just did it a-- backwards.”

As for the CPD’s new tattoo rules, unless the Illinois Labor Relations Board tells McCarthy that his anti-tattoo policy has to go, Chicagoans will be forced to interact with a lot of sweaty tattooed police wearing long-sleeve shirts.

If that’s the case, common sense says something might be missing from the list of things an officer is required carry while working the beat on hot summer days.

Yes, I’m talking about strong deodorant.

Then again, Chicago police officers certainly would be more immediately identifiable to the public if we can smell them coming.

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