Our tattoo campaign prompts new national appearance standards

07 August 2017

Police tattoo

New national guidance on appearance standards for police officers and police staff has been put in place.

The move was prompted by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) after we raised the profile of tattoos on officers, with forces having a variety of policies in place, with some having automatic bans.

The new guidance – developed by the College of Policing and accepted as best practice – now provides officers and staff with clear direction on their appearance, so that they present a professional image while also being allowed some self-expression.

Hundreds of members took part in a survey last year about the inconsistent approach to tattoos across forces, and the wider issue of variable dress codes was then taken up by chief constable Simon Cole through the College’s Professional Committee, in partnership with police staff associations and UNISON.

Former PFEW Interim National Board member Victoria Martin, who led on the work, said: “We need to reflect the communities we serve and the fact that we are a modern police service. We had a lot of passionate feedback from our members on this issue, demonstrating that some force dress policies are very out-dated, so we set about gathering the evidence we needed to push for a new national standard.    

“One of the biggest issues we faced is the way some forces view officers and potential new recruits with tattoos - some forces will not accept a person with a tattoo that cannot be covered by uniform. This approach is significantly restricting the pool of potential talent, as one in five 18-29 year-olds has a tattoo. In 30-39 year-olds it’s one in four, while according to our survey 48% of officers have a tattoo. Just as important is the fact that it shouldn’t be mandatory for officers with tattoos to wear long-sleeved tops, particularly during the summer when they have to wear a lot of kit. It is a health and safety issue.”   

A survey of the public by Ipsos MORI found that the public are largely accepting of police officers with tattoos provided they could not be interpreted as offensive or discriminatory. The new guidance states that, ‘careful consideration will be given by the organisation to any tattoo located on the face, neck or hands in deciding if it is acceptable’. The new national guidance also covers facial hair, jewellery, make-up, spectacles and sunglasses.  

Chief Inspector Martin continues: “All force policy should be based on national guidance – to step away from that guidance, there must be more justification than simple intolerance.”