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Tattoos in policing: a survey of state police policies

Sara M. McMullen (School of Public Affairs, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, USA)
Jennifer Gibbs (School of Public Affairs, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 21 September 2018

Issue publication date: 23 May 2019




Policing agencies across the USA have cited difficulty recruiting qualified applicants, thus leaving many employment vacancies unfilled. One reason for this challenge may be that those who would make exceptional police officers are barred from employment because of their body art. Varying appearance policies exist concerning tattoos, yet little is known about these policies. The purpose of this paper is to survey the tattoo policies of policing agencies.


The tattoo policies of all 50 state-level policing agencies were reviewed to explore similarities and state-level correlates.


The majority, but not all, of state police have some type of appearance policy targeting tattoos. State policing agencies that have a “no visibility” policy regarding tattoos more often were in states with a low percentage of millennial residents, high percentage of young veterans, men and non-Hispanic white citizens, and low crime; t-tests indicate “no visibility” policy states significantly differed from other states in the percentage of non-Hispanic whites and crime. Further, state policing agencies with a “no visibility” policy tended to be in northeastern states, with southern states having the fewest state policing agencies with such policies, although the χ2 test was non-significant.


Despite the ubiquity of tattoos in the American society, the literature is scant with studies of police appearance policies regarding tattoos. This study provides a partial summary of tattoo policies at the state policing level.



McMullen, S.M. and Gibbs, J. (2019), "Tattoos in policing: a survey of state police policies", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 42 No. 3, pp. 408-420.



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