Police tattoo policyshould be revised

The Mount Airy City Police Department has a problem.

It can’t find enough qualified applicants to fill all of its officer slots.

And now, it seems, one reason is because the department has been rejecting applicants who have visible tattoos, with no other reason for turning the applicants away.

The department has 41 sworn-officer positions, and recently Chief Dale Watson said the department has eight vacancies, spots that have been open for quite some time. Some of the reasons he gave for the difficulty in filling the positions are reasonable: Many people apply, but can’t pass background checks; some can qualify for the jobs, but take higher-paying positions elsewhere, or leave the city force for higher paying jobs.

We wouldn’t want the department to lower its standards, because the residents of Mount Airy deserve the best, most qualified force possible. As for pay rates — the city commissioners, and by extension the residents of the city, have to decide if they value those positions at a higher rate of pay than the city currently gives.

But one other factor has apparently surfaced that gives us pause: the city police department will not hire someone who has a visible tattoo.

This, it seems, is an antiquated policy which should be eliminated.

We understand there was a time in our society when someone with a tattoo was considered a person of questionable character. Tattoos were for rebels, lawbreakers, people with whom those in proper society didn’t associate. We don’t believe that was necessarily true — 50 years ago there were just as many dependable people with hearts of gold wearing tattoos as their were criminals or dishonest people — but today there should be no doubt about that. Tattoos are simply something a lot of people choose to have, an adornment of sorts not too unlike (though more permanent) than jewelry.

We understand the city police force can’t do away with the anti-tattoo policy in total — there might be some tattoos which could be offensive in nature, ones not suitable for display by someone representing the city. And that means eliminating such a policy must be done deliberately, in consultation with the city government and legal counsel.

But we hope, at some point soon, the policy is revised, so that Mount Airy doesn’t continue to lose out on some qualified individuals who would make fine officers, even with a little ink on their skin.

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