Mill Creek draws the line on tattoos for cops

MILL CREEK — An inch of ship peeking out from under a shirt sleeve is OK. So’s a wife’s name on the shoulder.

A tattoo of a naked woman? Not so much.

The Mill Creek Police Department

recently rewrote its personal appearance policy for police officers. The new policy includes a clause that officers don’t have to hide their tattoos — provided they didn’t get visible fresh ink after the April 21 agreement was signed.

The former personal appearance policy had gotten stale, Police Chief Bob Crannell said. It was roughly a decade old.

It vaguely dictated that officers “shall maintain a neat, well-groomed appearance and shall style their hair accordingly.”

That left a lot of room for debate.

The world has changed when it comes to body art, Crannell said. Mill Creek police wanted to get ahead of the topic before any troublesome tattoos could cause a stir.

All of Mill Creek’s officers disclosed their tattoos during the hiring process, he said. It’s a routine question posed by background investigators before hiring. Those tattoos have been grandfathered into the rules.

None of the officers have any ink that could be deemed offensive or inappropriate, Crannell said. The department is going through its entire policy manual, but personal appearance was more of a hot-button item, Crannell said.

The city and the police guild already were working on a contract addendum to upgrade their body armor vests, he said. The type of vests available to officers had come up in informal discussions for months but the issue became a bigger concern this spring.

It’s not common for personal appearance policy to be laid out in a labor agreement, but the timing worked out as “a good opportunity to put that one to bed,” Crannell said.

A personal appearance policy should reflect the community’s standards and expectations for police officers, he said.

It also is meant as common sense professionalism, said Ian Durkee, an acting sergeant with Mill Creek police.

“It’s a desire we should all have — everyone does at this department, I know — to appear professional so we can get the respect that’s deserved,” he said.

There are, however, clauses in the new policy regarding less common body modifications: branding, scarification and tongue-splitting, to name a few.

None of those kinds of body art have become an issue in Mill Creek, Crannell said. The language of the addendum came from a California police policy center. Mill Creek police adopted and customized that language.

The new rules fall in line with those of larger police departments around Snohomish County.

Everett police changed their grooming policy in January 2010, Sgt. Robert Goetz said. Officers who get new ink after that date have to keep it covered while on duty.

In Lynnwood, police hired after mid-2009 are not allowed to have tattoos or other body modifications visible while on duty, according to department policy provided by police spokeswoman Shannon Sessions. They also are prohibited from more extreme adornments, such as split tongues and “foreign objects inserted under the skin to create a design or pattern.”

Officers with arm tattoos are supposed to wear a long-sleeve uniform at all times while on duty. Waivers to the Lynnwood policy can be approved by the police chief on a case-by-case basis.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s office doesn’t have a written policy regarding tattoos, spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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