This is the blog for Robert Vincent, Chief of Police for the Gulfport (Florida) Police Department. Please feel free to leave comments, but keep in mind that anything appearing on this page may be subject to retention and disclosure in accordance with Florida public records law.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Check Out the Ink

For almost fifteen years, the Gulfport Police Department has maintained a policy forbidding officers from having exposed tattoos while in uniform. Starting today, that policy will change.

Under the new rules, tattoos are not allowed on the hands, neck or face, and any other exposed tattoos must be able to fit under a 3-inch by 5-inch card. Of course, inappropriate or offensive tattoos will be prohibited no matter where they are located or how small they are. Any questionable material will be reviewed by a panel that will include at least one Gulfport resident who is not a member of the police department.

Why the change? Why now? Quite simply, the community standards are changing, and we have to keep up. Tattoos are much more common than they were two decades ago, and their appearance in professional workplaces has become routine. A Tampa Tribune report published last year profiled tattoos among local law enforcement agencies. The report made it clear that the Gulfport policy was just not the norm for this time and location.

Gulfport officers with tattoos on forearms have been concealing them for years with all manner of coverups, which actually look more unprofessional than the tattoo. All the while, their colleagues working in neighboring agencies are working the same job without the additional restrictions. That sort of arrangement certainly does nothing to enhance morale.

We have also turned down plenty other otherwise-qualified candidates simply because they couldn’t meet our tattoo standard. I’m talking people with military experience and college education, turned away because of the ink on their arm. The pool of applicants is already small enough; we don’t need to help make it smaller.

As the personal appearance policy came up for routine review, I decided to take another look at tattoos, and after a thorough staff review, the new policy will go into effect this week. So, be on the lookout for the new ink out there. My guess is that our diverse community known for its live-and-let-live lifestyle will have no objections to the change. In fact, I’m betting we get some compliments. After all, tattoos are art.