Police tattoos

Tattoos on a police officer's arm

One in five 18-29 year-olds has a tattoo. In 30-39 year-olds, it’s one in four. However, many police forces are taking a tougher and less tolerant line on officers with tattoos, and tightening up the rules on what can and can’t be displayed, requiring tattooed officers to wear long sleeves on hot summer days and under body armour. The Home Office national guidance relating to police and visible tattoos is currently being interpreted differently by each of the 43 forces, creating confusion and unequal treatment.

What are our concerns?
We are concerned that if tougher policies on visible tattoos are adopted, the police service risks missing out on a generation of able, talented and committed officers just because they are inked. We are also concerned that existing officers are being treated unfairly, as different policies are enforced in different parts of the country. There have been cases in which different policies on visible tattoos have prevented officers from transferring between forces. We are concerned about the equality issues of age and sex discrimination. The new policies that are being rolled out across the country are having a derogatory impact on a significant number of our members (1 in 3 of young adults).  Tattoos on hands and necks are also more common amongst young women. Additionally, we are concerned about the health and safety impact if officers are forced to wear long sleeved tops regardless of the weather conditions.

What is PFEW calling for?
PFEW wants national standardisation, rather than local interpretation. We are calling for a modern, consistent national approach to tattoos to be adopted across the police service. PFEW believes that if the police service truly wants to embrace diversity and widen the talent pool it recruits from, then forces need to be more open-minded, so communities have a police service that reflects today’s society.

What is PFEW doing about it?
We have undertaken two pieces of research – one with police officers and one with members of the public – to find out how they feel about officers with tattoos. The results are very informative and positive, the key headline being that 81% of the public who were asked said that dealing with an officer with a tattoo had no effect on their confidence in the officer. There is also a summary of the key findings from each.

A small working group has now been set up with the intention of drafting some national guidance and all Chief Constables have been written to. Our research will contribute to this work and help to inform it.

How you can get involved 

Thanks to all who have contributed to the debate. We have had a great response on social media, with many people getting in touch with us about this issue.

You can still join the conversation on social media by tweeting your thoughts on the subject using #FedINK @PFEW_HQ.

Read the blog 'Why do many police forces have an old-fashioned attitude towards tattoos?' by the PFEW's lead on tattoos,Victoria Martin.

Watch some of our video discussion on the topic via our YouTube channel.

If you have any questions about this campaign, please email the Federation lead on this issue: Victoria Martin.